#Backtoschool – what China did

It is some months ago now since Chinese schools reopened. Rather than a blanket, country-wide easing of lockdown, however, re-opening began with a deliberate focus on cities and areas that were classified as ‘low risk.’ In such cases, all age groups were able to go back to school, from kindergarten to senior school. Full virus testing operations were put in place including temperature checks and health passports. As one Mum told us,

“it is the mandatory travel reporting and temperature testing entering every building that have kept a stranglehold on the virus”

and enabled 1.4 billion people the chance to return to life pretty much as normal.

During the online homeschooling phase, which varied from place to place but lasted in the southern city of Guangzhou, for example, from end January 2020 to 01 June, pupils had to wear school uniform and sing the national anthem every day, even at home. The school timetable remained as full-on as ever with regular academic testing. We interviewed one family whose 14 year old daughter was still doing PE following a video made by her teacher, cooking as part of her homework and also learning about the coronavirus.

Despite an extended period of home schooling, a relatively normal life outside school resumed with restaurants and shopping malls open. The public was simply required to have a temperature check when entering a building and wear a mask for the protection of others.

Of course students and parents have, like us here in the UK, experienced delayed exams, class closures and online learning. When schools were reopened, kindergarten and older children were dropped off at the school gates and parents were no longer allowed to accompany children inside. Staggered start and end times as well as social distancing helped to reduce additional risk.

Initially when kindergartens reopened, children had to eat alone but subsequently glass or perspex separator boards were placed on the tables between children. In boarding schools, beds were added and separated 2 metres apart, to enable social distancing during the daily, designated nap time – (yup! that even includes senior school students) – and mixed class activities were reduced.

The overwhelming feeling of being back at school is the happiness of being together amongst friends. It is what our education specialists and SLTs will also say. To be able to “hang out and chat with my friends, to laugh together and to do sport,” said Jia Lu, aged 14, are the things that, like for most children everywhere, enhance the joy of the shared learning experience and improve wellbeing.

Whilst outbreaks of the Coronavirus still occur, as happened in Chengdu City in China’s western interior, just before Chinese New Year, China continues to manage the virus well. Whenever it raises its ugly head, strict lockdown measures are enforced and travel bans implemented to prevent its spread. Adherence to the rules has meant that Chinese people are enjoying ‘a life more normal’ than we are able to experience just yet. We would certainly like a bit more of that!

Published by H-J Colston

H-J is Joint CEO of Chopsticks Club and a regular speaker on China. Through training and events, she has been building cultural literacy about China from the boardroom to the classroom since 1993. She designed and delivered a “Doing Business in China” course at Pearson Business School. She was invited to meet President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the UK in 2015 in recognition of her work in building China-UK relations. She has a degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Durham. Find out more at www.chopsticksclub.com and www.engagewithchina.org

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