New academic year: Alternating distance and contact learning

September 1st marked the traditional first day of school for children entering into the first grade across Estonia.
September 1st marked the traditional first day of school for children entering into the first grade across Estonia.

As the new academic year begins, schools have had to make changes to their organization with some schools making minimal changes but some taking bigger steps to alleviate the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading.

The Ministry of Education and Research forwarded their directives on coronavirus safety measures to education establishments in August. Among those were ideas allowing some classes to distance learn and reorganizing lunch breaks and physical education (PE) classes in order to ensure sufficient social distancing.

A week in school, two at home

Alo Savi, director of Põlva State Upper Secondary School, told ERR students in Põlva will alternate one week in contact learning in school and will spend the next two at home learning from a distance.

According to Savi, the school has additionally set up several hand sanitizing stations and has told all students who feel ill to stay home.

The director said: "Trully, we were all very tied by the end of spring, /.../ I really would not want that kind of learning from home back. But the experience in spring had a great effect, we learned a lot from it. It is possible to direct students to many tasks at a time when subjects cross, there are tasks that could fit the criteria for many classes at one time."

Savi also said the school has reorganized physical education: "PE teachers have solved it with activity diaries which have to be presented every day. PE classes are no longer such that students have to run seven to ten minutes, it is about daily activity now."

He emphasized that high school students have to be capable of learning independently and many actually like going through subjects at their own pace from the comfort of their homes.

The Põlva state school director concluded: "In the long-term, our hope is that teachers will have more time to deal with students who need more support and help."

Lunch breaks and bus capacities halved

Director of Taebla School in Lääne County Jaanus Mägi told ERR that there are no extraordinary measures in use for such a small school.

He explained: "We are trying to keep students outside for breaks and disperse them for lunch, meaning all students will not queue up and wait for their portion, classes will take lunch at different times."

Mägi added that changes have also been made in school bus organization, with the capacities of buses halved. Instead of the current one bus, two buses are in use to allow for less people in one vehicle.

The director added that classes have been equipped with sanitizing stations and all has been well for the first days of school.

No precise set of schemes confirmed yet

Margo Sootla, director of Paide State High School in Järva County, said the first week of school has been organized differently than usual but there is no detailed plan confirmed for the future yet.

Sootla described: "School days are shorter now, classes are shorter and in smaller groups. At the same time, students are in school but tomorrow (Friday, September 4 - ed.) is a movement day outside. We have different scenarios thought out going forward but they depend on what could happen in the community as a whole."

He explained that one option is to hold all classes for tenth grade students in school, but alternate distance learning and coming to school for eleventh and twelfth grade students.

In addition, distance learning will be tried next week, with lunch breaks also taking place at different times for different classes.

Sootla said: "The most complicated thing is what kind of risk could realize and what is the sufficient measure to deal with it. But there are no measures to keep us safe until the end."

The director added that responsibility falls on the students themselves to actively participate in case of distance learning.

Classes to enter the building from different doors and stay in their home classroom

Heidi Kiuru, director of Karlova High School in Tartu, told ERR that the most effective change is that all classes will take place in so-called nest classrooms and only teachers will move between the rooms.

Kiuru said: "Additionally, students will enter the school from different entrances from the courtyard."

Similar to other schools, the students at Karlova will also take lunch at different times throughout the day.

The school director said: "First grade parents will hand their children over to teachers in the morning and the teacher will hand the children back at the end of the day. Parents can access the school if they notify us beforehand and then we will register the person."

If the spread of COVID-19 were to worsen however, Kiuru says there is a plan being developed but the capacity to go to distance learning is already available.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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