The fears of students and parents are mounting following Education Minister Tarek Shawki's decision to allow Egypt's international school to pursue classroom learning in the new academic year that starts on Sunday amid the fourth wave of COVID-19.
Although students' parents are relieved the troubles due to online learning last year are over, they are also "worried the physical attendance of school on a daily basis will spread the virus among the students and in their homes," said Farah Saafan, a journalist a mother of a student in an international school, told Ahram Online.
Adding to the parents' anxiety is the fact that Egypt has been seeing a steady rise in coronavirus infections of late, while the government said the peak of the wave will take place between late September and early October.
Moreover, officials had earlier stated that the Delta variant was recorded in Egypt in July and that the children are not spared from its wrath.
Sara Adel, a teacher at a renowned international school, told Ahram Online that making matters worse is that the vaccines available in Egypt are not allowed to be administered to children below 18 years of age.
“We are going in full capacity, students and teachers, while following the preventative measures, such as wearing face masks,” Adel said, adding that the teachers, administrators, and staff have been fully vaccinated the week before as per the Ministry of Education’s directives.
Preparing for the new academic year, the Ministry of Education, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, has been ramping up the vaccination campaign for teachers, administration staff, and employees.
Last week, Minister of Health Hala Zayed said that 600,000 employees in the Ministry of Education, including teachers, have been vaccinated against the coronavirus in the past two weeks.
Based on the health ministry’s estimations, 3.2 million people from the education sector, in schools and universities, would be vaccinated by the end of September 2021.
The ministry had earlier set 7 September as the deadline for school staffers to complete their COVID-19 vaccine registration but decided to extend the deadline till the end of the month.
According to the World Health Organisation, as of 5 September 2021, a total of 10.4 million doses have been administered in Egypt, including more than 3.5 million fully vaccinated citizens.
Adel, the teacher in an IGCSE section and a mother of two students in another international school, wonders how the preventative measures like social distancing will be applied if the school will start with full capacity.
“Last year before going online, we had two periods in the school to reduce the capacity in the class and it was easier to apply social distancing and distance between desks in classrooms and recess, but now going full capacity with one period only, I do not know how to do it,” she said.
In March 2020, schools and universities suspended in-person classes in the wake of the rising daily infections of the coronavirus. Most students have remained at home since, with assignments given online, although pupils taking their final high school exams – the Thanaweya Amma – did so in-person in June and July.
Shawky has recently explained that the regularity of the educational process in schools is a “state decision” and came based on the recommendations of the Crisis Management Committee headed by the prime minister. “We seek a full-fledged academic year and avoid [the repercussions of] the coronavirus, and we will not cancel in-class education except in the worst circumstances,” he added.
The minister also noted that the digital resources would be a complement to the educational process and not an alternative.
“We had to be keen on reducing losses for students," Shawky said, explaining that online learning had a negative impact on the assimilation of students, especially younger generations who do not have the ability to deal with the Internet.
Despite the shared concern of parents and even teachers over the health of the students, the need to give students a proper education through in-person attendance at schools is also a shared wish.
“We are worried about the children's academic abilities because online learning is a failure,” said Saafan, believing that the children’s mental health has been affected from prolonged home stays.
While Adel believes that it was important for the children to return back to the classroom to have direct connection with teachers to get real benefits, online teaching does not offer this benefit for the younger pupils.
Despite hopes that the new school year will continue in-class, Adel assumes the procedures to follow if the fourth coronavirus wave reaches its peak in the upcoming weeks will be “suspending in-class study for certain classes, replacing them with online learning.”
During the last decade there has been a leap in the number of international schools in Egypt, going up from 57 schools in 2011 to 785 in 2020, according to official figures.
Some of these schools are separate sections in the private schools following the national system.
The British and American education systems have mostly predominated in international schools followed by the French and German systems.
The official 2021/22 academic year in Egyptian public schools that have national curricula will start on Saturday 17 October, according to a statement by the education minister in July.