Back to school in the pandemic

A lesson in patience and perseverance

Suzanna Dayne
Students maintain physical distancing and wear masks in class.
16 March 2021

Lombok, Indonesia – Eleven-year-old Elma is back at school after months of learning from home. But Elma is one of the luckier ones. Most of the nation’s 68 million students still have to study from home. However, districts in about half of the countries 34 provinces have started opening some schools.

And things look a lot different than they did before COVID-19 reached Elma’s island last year.

First, she has to wear a mask from the moment she leaves home until she returns. All children and teachers have their temperatures checked daily and handwashing with soap or the use of hand sanitiser is compulsory before class. Inside the classroom desks are spaced apart and classes have been cut in half.

Elma puts on a mask.
Elma starts her day by putting on a mask.

“We have split our students into two groups to make sure the classrooms are not overcrowded. So, the children come to school three days a week and focus on key subjects,” says principal Hj. Nurul Huda.

Huda says the hardest part is keeping physical distancing, especially outside the classroom.

“It’s been difficult for students learning from home. So, when they come back to school, they are so excited to see their friends and sometimes they forget to stay apart. So, the school staff need to be on their toes and monitor the children,” she says.

Before re-opening, the school worked closely with the district education office to make sure they complied with the health protocol checklist.

Teachers check the temperatures of the students before they enter school.
All students and teachers get their temperature checked daily.

Achmad Dewanto Hadi heads the District Education and Culture Department in East Lombok and oversees around 1,000 elementary and junior high schools. He says it is vital all schools strictly adhere to these health protocols otherwise they may have to close.

“We work closely with the health department so if a teacher or student ever tests positive for COVID-19 we would immediately close the school for 14 days - then revaluate,” says Hadi.

“The situation is ever-changing so we must continually evaluate our programme and identify areas that we need to improve on, he adds.

Keeping track

UNICEF has supported the government’s efforts to keep children learning during the pandemic including providing modules and learning materials as well as training for parents and teachers on distance learning and psycho-social support for children.

Now UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Education and Culture to make sure schools are ready to re-open when the time comes.

“We are using UNICEF’s RapidPro, a mobile tool, which collects real-time data via online communication channels. We receive updated information from schools to see if they have met the health protocol requirements before they re-open. There will be a special focus on remote and rural areas,”  says UNICEF Education Specialist Nugroho Warman.

“Lower economic households as well as children with disabilities have been hit the hardest,” he adds.

Mrs Huda explains the new schedule to teachers.
Mrs Huda explains the new schedule to teachers.

Data shows that 47 per cent of children study just 1-2 hours per day and 35 per cent said they had poor or no internet access.  In addition, about a third of children say they have a hard time concentrating on subjects.

 “Of course, we understand schools are closed in higher risk areas. But learning from home has affected children directly – on their education and their mental and social health,” he adds. So, the sooner we can re-open schools safely the better,” he adds.

Back in Lombok, Elma says she is very happy to be in class again because she missed her friends and her teacher.

“It’s a bit lonely learning from home, but I always told myself to never give up hope,” she says.

For children like Elma, learning this past year has been a lesson in itself…. a lesson in patience and perseverance.

Elma says she is so happy to be back at school with her friends and so she can fulfil her dream and become a veterinarian.

“It’s a bit lonely learning from home, but I always told myself to never give up hope."


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