Bidding Farewell to Long Winter Break, Chinese Students Are Diving in a Different Life as Schools Reopen
2020-04-17 18:35:08

复课.jpgSource: 21st Century Business Herald  Reporter: Wang Feng  Translated by JMDedu

As the novel coronavirus has been largely contained in China, some provinces have recently announced to reopen their local schools. Besides familiar feelings back to the classroom, the school life under strict anti-epidemic measures will be a new experience for students and teachers who have already returned to school.

"We return to campuses."

Chen Ling, a middle school English teacher in Jiangxi Province, one of China’s southeastern provinces, woke up as the alarm clock rang at 6:00 am on April 7. She needed to arrive at the school before 7:00 am, when students in the third and final year would enter the school in batches.

Part of students across nine provinces, which have reported zero or few domestic confirmed cases for several days, resumed their school life on the same day. As of April 9, senior high school students in 11 provinces have returned to their campuses since the Ministry of Education announced to postpone the spring semester, which was supposed to start from February, at the end of January.

College students in some provinces such as Xinjiang, Shanxi, and Jiangsu, are also able to start campus life within April after schools have closed for more than one month.

"The classroom was silent when I walked into the classroom for the first class. Students were just staring at me. I haven’t seen the scene for a long time," Chen told the 21st Century Business Herald.

Besides familiar feelings back to the classroom, students and teachers have also experienced something new and different as schools reopen.

"Due to the requirement of wearing masks throughout the whole class in the classroom, my eyeglasses will become foggy, and it’s hard for me to breathe," Chen said. In China’s northeast Heilongjiang Province, schools combine online and in-person teaching during the first week, meaning students need to attend online classes in the offline classroom even after classes are resumed.

The prevention and control of the COVID-19 is still a top priority after school campuses open, as the pandemic has not been completely curbed yet. Schools across different provinces have taken similar measures compliant to requirements issued by MOE to prevent the virus from spreading on campuses.

Strict anti-epidemic measures

On April 6, one day before the opening, Chen Ling came to school to prepare for tomorrow's work. Educators, including her, helped to separate desks and chairs apart to leave enough space between students. They also placed a guideline to the school reopening on each desk.

A week ago, teachers of the school acted as students and carried a rehearsal for the whole process from entering school to taking classes, dining, quarantine, and even emergency cases.

In principle, a school should remain closed if not meeting all the requirements raised by MOE at the end of February. The requirements are: the COVID-19 in the local region has been basically under control; the school is qualified to conduct essential prevention and control measures; the public health safety of the campus can be guaranteed.

Since only senior middle or high school students are permitted to resume class now, and the school has also staggered entry times, so congestion caused by large students arriving at once didn’t occur at Chen’s school on the very first day.

After information registration and body temperature check at the school gate, students enter the campus one by one through a specialized pathway, which is normally set up depending on grades or whether a student lives on campus or not. Before stepping into the teaching building and classroom, students will receive a temperature check once again.

In Xiamen, a city in southeast China's Fujian Province, the recess between two classes is extended from 10 to 20 minutes. A local school also asks students to maintain at least a 1.2-meter distance from each other in the toilet, and one toilet can only serve for two fixed classes of students, 10 minutes reserved for each.

Given that there would be a potential for large gatherings when students have a meal, students in Chen’s school were asked to queue up and meanwhile keep a 1-meter distance to take their meals. Some schools opt to distribute meals to each student.

Qinhuangdao, a city in north China’s Hebei Province, where senior high school students are scheduled to return to school from April 23, today announced that in order to keep the virus out of campuses, all senior high school students and the faculty would stay on campuses until July 8, the second day of the two-day Gaokao.

Adapt to a new teaching and learning environment

Despite the inconvenience caused by necessary prevention measures such as queuing up and temperature check, Chen found that wearing a face mask when teaching classes was the most challenging problem for her.

She said her school had prepared masks for all students and teachers. Wearing face masks is a necessity once they are in the classroom and canteen. "Some students report they have the symptom of fever after wearing masks for a long time, but their body temperatures are normal. Some students would secretly pull down the mask to expose their noses."

She added that students weren’t able to see how she pronounced when she wore a mask to teach English. Moreover, it isn't effortless to hear clearly when many students answered a question together.

Students shall always wear protective masks in the classroom as schools start to reopen, said MOE earlier. Wang Dengfeng, director of the MOE leading group office on the COVID-19 epidemic, told a press conference that the requirement is necessary for crowded space like classrooms. However, he also suggested exempting the restriction when the students are on outdoor playgrounds and have enough space between each other in low-risk regions.

How senior high school students make up for lost exam preparation time?

As senior high school students return to school, many schools have cut class sizes in half with fewer than 30 students in each classroom.

Ren Fengquan, director of the 12th grade at the High School Affiliated to Harbin Normal University, said his school combined online and in-person teaching during the first week. A class is currently divided into Class A and Class B, and students in each classroom would have six classes per day, with three online and three offline classes. When Class A takes an offline course, at the same time Class B would learn the same content through an live online course. Teachers are allowed to answer students’ questions in these two classrooms, but students' homework is still required to submit online.

Schools that have cut class sizes but with limited online teaching conditions instead adopt a flexible method by dividing one whole class into two parts: teaching and exercises, enabling a teacher to spend the first half of a class length teaching students in Class A, and the second half in Class B. Students would do exercises when the teacher is in the other classroom.

"When it comes to offline teaching after schools reopen, firstly, we need to measure the result of home-based online learning of each student. Some online resources and methods can still be used as a supplement to offline teaching to improve teaching quality further," said Chu Zhaohui, a researcher of China’s National Institute of Education Sciences.

The Ministry of Education also requires schools to assess students’ home-based learning, and then accordingly adjust their teaching plans, Wang Dengfeng said in the press conference mentioned before.

For high school students in their final year, even if Gaokao, the college entrance examination, is postponed by one month to July 7 and 8, students merely have 90 days to prepare for it from April 7. "Because students didn’t take normal classes before schools reopen, the total preparation time at school is reduced compared with their previous peers," Chu said.

However, he also noted that most schools would not schedule classes to learn new topics in the last semester, enabling students to create their plan to make exam preparation step by step. “There is no need to worry too much about it,” said he.

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