Virus spread forces radical action
Around the world, governments are being forced to think on their feet to meet new challenges posed by the spread of Covid-19, and our educational establishments must adapt accordingly.
Global update part 1
It is just over a month since we last published a global update and the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has risen by 15 million to 50 million and the deaths from 1 million to 1.25 million. As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, there is little sign of the spread of the virus abating any time soon, especially in North America and Europe.Over the next two posts we describe how in the various countries we cover, the acceleration in cases has forced some governments to abandon their regional approach to managing their response for a national one.
On November 8, Quebec reported its highest-ever daily increase of COVID-19 cases: 1,397 new cases and nine deaths. Despite this, the Provincial Government stated that the pandemic was under control.
Quebec has operated a system of Covid alert levels across the province to determine what actions should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. For the Western Quebec School Board with its wide urban to rural geographical spread, the level ranges from 4 in Gatineau to level 3 for the rest of the Board’s schools. Level 4 is the maximum level and level 3 the intermediate.
In the weekly newsletter from Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec School Board, he notes that there are currently 21 cases of Covid-19 in the Board’s schools – unchanged from the week before.
On the school front, maintaining the high quality school system in such a taxing time remains the aim of all staff. In addition, an evaluation tool for online learning is being developed by the directors. The numbers of students in the virtual school has reached 450 plus, and those opting for homeschooling remain higher than before the pandemic.
On Friday November 6 the Ministry of Health and Prevention of the UAE, of which Dubai is an Emirate, announced two more deaths due to Covid-19 complications, bringing the total death toll to 510. It also recorded 1,292 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number in the country to 139,891. Meanwhile, the Dubai Police said that the General Traffic Department had recorded 14,831 violations of Covid-19 precautionary measures in the emirate so far, official news agency WAM reported. The violations included people not wearing masks in private and public transport; failure to take into account the precautionary measures when transporting exempt workers between the emirates; and not taking into account the distance between people in vehicles. It also issued 11,936 warnings.
In comparison with the other countries we report on, cases in Dubai are, as our graph shows, beginning to rise. However, the number of cases and deaths have been significantly lower than elsewhere. This is in part due to the age profile of the population -there are few people over 60 years of age – and the strict measures imposed from early on to stem the spread of the virus.
The changes to the schooling system we have previously reported, brought about by the economic fallout from disruption to major industries such as hospitality and aviation in Dubai, continue, but to a lesser extent. Schools have adapted as best they can to the balancing act of protecting and educating students in schools, providing remote tutoring and meeting the requirements of an ever-vigilant public health and education service. In this fee-paying school system, thoughts are already turning to projecting and recruiting students for next year.
Staff downtime is becoming easier as they begin to see public restrictions lifted. Thus access to malls, beaches and hotels has almost returned to normality, with the exception of mandatory face masks. However, recently things have been slightly busier than normal as the tourist industry accommodates an influx of the Instagram generation. They are arriving from European countries about to go into lockdown with a determination to snap their good fortune and share it with their envious followers.
Having spent the past three months trying to establish a regional approach to controlling the spread of the virus, which had limited success and emphasised the divide between the North and South of the country, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-week national lockdown from November 6. In contrast to the first lockdown, schools remain open.
The legislation supporting this covers 14,009 words and allows activities such as the ordering of pints of beer by text and fishing for recreation, but not competition. Thus fishing at an angling club is banned but the hardy souls amongst us can wild swim there instead, and texting the pub from home might secure you a pint of beer, but it could be flat when you drink it.
As our map illustrates, there is still a significant difference in the number of cases from region to region. As it takes two weeks for the lockdown to impact upon the number of cases, when it ends rates might have dropped across the country but the variations will still be there. With schools remaining open throughout this latest lockdown, once it is over a local solution incorporating comprehensive local testing must be available or we will be back here again before the spring. Unfortunately, for school staff, a life of perpetual uncertainty is likely to continue well into the new year.
The debate surrounding whether schools should be opened or not is being fuelled by statistics which indicate that students of secondary and university age are in the fastest-growing group for catching the virus, even taking into account a recent decline in numbers. Unions have suggested that secondary schools are a breeding ground for the virus and thus should be closed. The Government has refuted this suggestion and a central tenet of its approach of keeping schools open throughout this lockdown remains.
We have first-hand experience of two secondary schools only three kilometres apart. One draws its students from a local catchment, the other from a much wider area. Since the students returned to school in September, the former has had very few cases and the other considerably more. The difference in the degree of disruption to these schools, as students and teachers self isolate, is noticeable.
It is also the time of the year when selective schools run their test for hundreds of students. This presents its own set of problems. How do these schools safely accommodate hundreds of candidates and their parents without damaging the integrity of the protocols designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19? Over the last few months they have worked hard to establish their systems which now could be under threat. It’s a sobering sight to see playgrounds bedecked with plastic barriers, strings of tape and signs indicating one way systems and urging correct social distance. These are designed to ensure everyone’s safety, and they remind us of similar scenes in supermarket car parks at the height of the first lockdown. Over the next few weeks as staff wait to see if their efforts have prevented the spread of the virus, the high level of tension that already exists will be ratcheted up further.
All this disruption has kept the issue of public examinations in the firing line. There is talk of mock exams in each subject, differentiated marking schemes depending on the degree of disruption experienced by students and scrapping them completely and settling for teacher assessments as they have in Scotland. The Government is trying to maintain the status quo and so the conjecture and with it the uncertainty continues.
We complete our report on the countries we cover in our next blog.
Take care and stay safe