School reopening: How teachers and students are adjusting to the new normal in Thailand
Children in Thailand are back in the physical classroom since July 1 and adjusting to the new normal
After a prolonged period of learning at home during school closures, children in Thailand are back in the physical classroom since July 1 and adjusting to the new normal.
Like many others, children at Thai Raj Kiri school in the Mae Sot district of Tak province were very excited at the first day of school reopening. They are eager to rebuild a daily routine of learning, while trying to adjust to an unprecedented school year amid COVID-19.
Located on the Thailand-Myanmar border, Thai Raj Kiri is a medium-sized school with 584 children enrolled in the school. under the Tak Primary Education Service Area Office 2, offering kindergarten to lower secondary school education. More than 80 per cent of its students are migrants and ethnic minorities. UNICEF and USAID recently provided the school with thermometers to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The first day of school started with pouring rain in the early morning. Kids commuted on a school bus, which picked them up from their villages. Due to COVID-19, the bus needs to make up to six rounds and pick up a limited number of children at a time to ensure it is not too packed to abide by physical distancing measures. All children are required to have their temperature checked before getting on the bus, register with their teachers and clean their hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the school’s screening point. Some teachers stand by with hand-held thermometers to check the temperatures of children accompanied by their parents. The children then clean their hands with hand sanitizer and receive a stamp reading “PASS” on their wrist, after which they are allowed to enter classrooms.
The new normal of going to school during COVID-19 may not remain unfamiliar to children for too long. No matter where they looked, they saw posters and information related to COVID-19 everywhere. They wore masks while studying, desks were set further apart, and morning activities were cancelled to prevent large gatherings. All of these practices were implemented in line with the safe school guidelines and teacher manuals developed by UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Public Health, with assistance from the Government of Japan.
Although going to school now involves adjusting to many precautionary steps, all the children shared the sentiment that they are really happy to be back at school.
Happy children returning to school
Many children said that they would rather study at school than at home because there they can meet up with friends. They can ask teachers whenever they don’t understand a topic or need more clarification on any lessons. Learning through online platforms at home poses some challenges, making them feel like they are falling behind in their education.
“I was learning on a mobile phone when staying at home. I didn’t follow the lessons as scheduled all the time as I had to help out my parents with farming. I would rewind the lessons and study at night. Sometimes there were some troubles with the internet connection while learning on my phone,” said Mild, a ninth grade Hmong student studying in the Math-Science programme at the secondary level.
Na, a Myanmar girl from the ninth grade, said, “I’d wake up at 5 a.m. to help my family open the snack shop before starting online learning as scheduled. I also had to cook lunch for my family. After I finished studying, I’d carry food and snacks to sell in the farms and rice fields. I like going to school better than studying at home. I can ask teachers to explain things I don’t understand.”
An alternative learning approach to keep children learning
Most of the students in Thai Raj Kiri school are migrants and do not speak Thai as their mother tongue. Fewer Thai lessons over a prolonged period of time may have caused them to lose track of their language skills, making it difficult to catch up in lessons in the new school year. To address these challenges, their teachers joined forces and initiated the “Knowledge Delivering Kit with Thai Raj Kiri’s Teachers” project to keep children learning during the prolonged school break.
Throughout the six weeks before school reopening, the teachers travelled to villages with a knowledge delivering kit. The kit contains review worksheets and other learning materials for the school’s children. A multi-purpose area in each village then became a temporary classroom for children during school closure.
“Children were very attentive and enjoyed the activity. Parents were interested in the review classes as their children were in the care of teachers,” said Sirapassorn Chumputhep, the director of Thai Raj Kiri school. “During school closure, children faced challenges in learning at home. Most of the Myanmar and Hmong families have to earn a living by working in agriculture during the day, while children are left in the care of grandparents. Learning through the Distance Learning Television was even more difficult for many children as their reading and comprehension skills have not been fully developed. Therefore, the ‘Knowledge Delivering Kit with Thai Raj Kiri’s Teachers’ project was created to resolve those issues by redesigning the methods of teaching to keep children learning and ensure that children don’t forget what they studied in the previous year.”
In the coming months, Tak Primary Education Service Area Office 2 will continue working with schools and supporting the Department of Health by facilitating its staff members in monitoring and accessing the schools. All 44 regulations for school evaluation in alignment with the Department of Health must be met. Any schools that fail to do so could be ordered to close again.
The prolonged school closures this year caused unprecedented challenges to teachers and children, especially children from migrant and ethnic groups. Some children were struggling with online learning, while others had to help out their families during the day. Efforts made from teachers kept children learning and prepared for the new semester. In the meantime, support from all sectors helped strengthen the COVID-19 prevention measures when children were finally back in school. All of these efforts are contributing to keeping children safe while learning and helping them adjust to their unfamiliar routine under the ‘new normal’ environment.