Education in rural Kazakhstan during the pandemic
Primary schools continue to provide offline education under the strict new rules
The first thing that catches your eye at the entrance to the Batpak school in a small village in central Kazakhstan is a sanitizer hanging on the wall and a staff member measuring children’s temperature with a non-contact thermometer. No loud crowds of students rushing to their next class or parents waiting for their children. Only a small group of pupils aged 6-11 wearing masks and waiting for the temperature check.
This school-year in Kazakhstan started differently. For the first time in the history of the Republic, the so-called Knowledge Day was not marked with celebratory ceremonies, flowers and traditional meetings with school friends and teachers. Most students started this school year from home, except for primary school children.
The Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan introduced optional on-site classes for primary schools, trying to balance the pandemic risks and educational needs of younger children. Over 2,800 rural schools in remote areas of Kazakhstan continue to operate in strict compliance with the new sanitary and hygiene norms. They provide multi-shift schooling for pupils, whose parents opted in for offline studies.
Back in April and May, during the first phase of the COVID-19 quarantine in Kazakhstan, UNICEF in cooperation with UNESCO, Ministry of Education and Science held a series of webinars for multi-graded schools staff members. About 3,000 teachers from all regions of Kazakhstan and medical personnel were informed on how they can protect children and prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the lockdown and after reopening of schools. Trainers shared practical tips for living and studying in the time of COVID-19.
“This school year we are offering optional on-site classes, and, of course, it’s easier for us to teach in person. But the new guidelines are tougher. Children wear masks, they must change them after two lessons. They regularly disinfect their hands. Each classroom is aired and cleaned after every second lesson. Recess periods are scheduled at different times to avoid contact with other classes,”- says Tatiana Lysenko, a 4th grade teacher.
The teacher notes that children have already got used to the new norms. They understand how serious COVID-19 is and comply with the sanitary requirements. Parents helps teachers to inform children about the safety measures.
To maintain social distancing in classrooms, desks are placed one meter apart. Only one pupil is allowed to sit behind a desk. All seats are arranged in the chess-board order. Cross marks on empty chairs prevent children from occupying them. The class size is limited to 10 children, while pupils of secondary schools do not even have the opportunity to meet their classmates.
The 4th grade student Kirill, age 9, says that all children in his class comply with the new guidelines. “The school rules has been very strict since the beginning of this school year. They take our temperature at the entrance, disinfect our hands with an antiseptic. In class, we sit at a distance wearing masks. We change masks every two lessons,” - he explains. Kirill adds: “It’s easier to keep the distance, but harder to wear masks”.
To promote the safe school environment, UNICEF with the USAID support procured sanitizers and non-contact thermometers and delivered educational materials with messages on prevention measures and the best handwashing practices to all rural schools in Kazakhstan.
“UNICEF’s information materials are put everywhere. The temperature is measured every day with thermometers. If a child comes ill, it will be obvious. It helps control the process of safe education and avoid the further spread of COVID-19. The UNICEF posters are very accessible and easy to understand,” says Tatiana Lysenko, a school teacher in the Batpak village.
The class teacher believes that soon they will be able to return to traditional offline education and hopes that all restrictive measures are temporary.
UNICEF Kazakhstan advocates for a risk-based approach to decisions on continued distance learning or schools re-opening, taking into consideration the epidemiological situation at the local level.