On August 27, the Ministry of Education held the first press conference of the Autumn Series in Beijing to present its plans for work related to the prevention and control of COVID-19, and teaching in schools for the coming autumn semester.
“The coming autumn semester coincides with a critical period for COVID-19 prevention and control. Reopening schools while protecting campuses from the coronavirus is a top priority for the education system. The MOE plans to ensure safe, smooth and full reopening of all schools,” said Wang Dengfeng, Director General of the Department of Physical Health and Arts Education under the MOE, at the conference.
Early planning, preparations, and initiatives for the autumn term
“The conditions are now ripe for the full re-opening of schools at all levels in the autumn semester, but pandemic prevention and control pressure remains. All necessary precautionary measures must be in place at all times,” said Wang.
He noted that the MOE required early planning, preparedness and action before the official re-opening of schools. As early as June, the MOE issued a notice on work to be carried out in preparation for the return of students to school in September. In July, the MOE convened a meeting via video conference on COVID-19 Prevention and Control across the education system, during which it tasked schools to get ready for face-to-face teaching in the autumn semester. Meanwhile, COVID-19 prevention and response initiatives were being developed for all levels of educational institutions for the coming autumn and winter.
“Overall, educational institutions in all 31 provinces and provincial-level municipalities have made full preparations for reopening in September. Some will stagger their reopening by grade. Start dates may differ by level of education and vary from province to province, but most will fall between August 15 and October 10,” said Wang. As a next step, the MOE will keep track of and guide the reopening of schools nationwide, draw lessons from implementation and promote best practices.
Making tailored teaching plans according to grades, classes and subjects
At the press conference, Lyu Yugang, Director General of the Department of Basic Education, said that the MOE moved 180 million students into online classrooms for last spring semester, the largest ever online learning community in human history, in response to the rampant pandemic. Online teaching allowed students to maintain continuity of learning during school closures. Now, as schools are preparing to reopen, he underlined the importance of coordinating outbreak prevention measures and teaching routines, and making tailored teaching plans for different grades, classes and subjects.
Specifically, he said for first graders, courses should be designed to ensure smooth transition from kindergarten routines to primary school life, and getting children to adapt to proper learning quickly. Kindergartens, on the other hand, should focus more on sanitation, games and physical activity.
“Primary and secondary schools should pay close attention to students’ physical and mental wellbeing and provide continuous psychological health education,” Lyu said.
High-risk periods to watch out for: school opening days and the coming winter
In response to reports of a “closed-end management” style adopted by some HEIs, Wang said that instead of sealing off campuses, existing guidelines required strict access control, including ID checks, temperature monitoring, and registration of personal information before anyone was allowed to enter the school facilities. In addition, students and teachers are encouraged to refrain from going out of campus and to avoid crowds.
According to Wu Yan, Director General of the Department of Higher Education, there are two high-risk periods to watch out for: one is school opening days between now and October 15, which will see students return in large numbers from across the country. The other is between mid-December and mid-January, the coldest time of year, which according to leading medical experts can be a time when the coronavirus becomes active again. “The MOE has made full preparations for these periods,” Wu said.
The MOE urged schools to continue to strengthen their online teaching approaches, in case of an outbreak at any one school or a number of schools in a city. Online teaching was required to be incorporated as part of a new normal in China’s higher education.