For the first time in three months, South Korean high school students are back in the classroom.
But in many ways, it’s not schooling as usual.
As high school seniors returned to school Wednesday, they had their temperatures checked, wore masks on campus, and sat at desks that were spaced apart, in line with commonplace social distancing practices.
However, within hours of reopening, dozens of schools in Incheon, a city near the capital Seoul, were forced to shut again after two students tested positive for coronavirus.
South Korea – which has reported more than 11,100 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths – appears to have its outbreak largely under control. Now, the country is trying to get back to something approaching normal life.
But South Korea’s experience shows that reopening schools doesn’t mean a return to normal – and carries continued risks.
Around the region, other countries that have managed to control their outbreaks are facing similar questions when it comes to education.
In New Zealand, which has been praised for its swift approach to controlling the outbreak, students around the country headed back to school on Monday after eight weeks at home. In parts of Australia, children are already back at school.
In China – where the first coronavirus cases were reported last year – students began going back to school in March, according to state news agency Xinhua. Earlier this month, the Education Ministry said that about 40% of students were back in the classroom.
It’s a tricky subject – even though coronavirus symptoms in children tend to be mild, some studies have suggested that kids can play a major role in spreading the virus to each other and to vulnerable adults, raising the risk of another wave of infections.
A new normal for classrooms
The experience of students in Asia Pacific shows that even when countries reopen schools, that doesn’t mean a return to the old ways.
In South Korea, students aren’t all heading back at once.
South Korea’s students haven’t been in the classroom since before the spring break in February.
Students normally go back to school at the start of March, but the start of the spring semester was delayed until early April, when students began the new school year with online classes.
Wednesday was the first day back for senior high school students, but students from other grades will be returning over the next few weeks. By June 8, students of all ages are expected to be back at school.
On Thursday, the country’s Ministry of Education urged disease prevention inside and outside schools.
In New Zealand, schools put in place new hygiene rules – such as hand sanitizing before entering campus – and kept students spaced out in the classroom, according to Radio New Zealand.
Australia is so serious about hygiene that the government is providing an additional 10 million Australian dollars ($6.56 million) to help schools cover the cost of soap, hand sanitizer and classroom clea