The number of new daily coronavirus infections in Egypt is on the rise, reaching 370 on Monday with 14 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 6,650. While the government keeps urging people to stick to social distancing and other protective measures to deal with the new wave, at the same time it stresses that a total lockdown of the economy is a far-fetched scenario. But thousands of worried parents are wondering whether schools will shut down.
Tarek Shawki, the minister of education, stressed in a TV interview on Sunday that the current school year will not be disrupted by the pandemic and that the system is better prepared for dealing with rising infection rates than it was last year.
Two weeks ago, Shawki pointed out that the infection rate among school students, teachers and administrators in the K12 system is relatively low, at around 300 cases reported in schools nationwide since the beginning of the school year on 17 September.
The Ministry of Education is applying a blended system this year based on both in-class and online education with students in various school years attending a maximum of three days at school.
Meanwhile, Reda Hegazi, deputy to the minister of education, noted that the ministry, along with the Ministry of Health, is closely monitoring the implementation of precautionary measures. Students are not allowed on school premises without masks, social distancing is strictly applied, the number of students does not exceed 10-15 in a class and the school cafeterias are closed. The measures seem to be allaying the fears of parents as school attendance rates are high, according to Hegazi.
However, not all families are reassured by these measures. “Everyday we hear from a relative or friend that classes in schools closed after a student or teacher was tested positive for the virus,” Basma Mohamed, a mother of two students in a private school in New Cairo, said.
“Teachers and school administration can’t defy the ministry’s decisions to keep schools open but are also afraid of taking responsibility for the virus spreading among students,” Dalia Mohamed, a school teacher and a mother of three pointed out, adding that teachers are opting to urge students in secret to stay home.
Lotfi Metwali, a driver and father of a girl in the seventh grade, does not send his daughter to school. “My daughter went to school only one day since the academic year kicked off in October. I home-school her and bring her teachers to the home after school hours. This is safer for her,” said Metwali.
Parents who are reluctant to send their children to school for fear of infection, according to Hegazi, can either drop the whole year for their children or home-school them. This is doable as the ministry has made various educational sources available to students like educational satellite channels and zoom applications. Moreover, on 1 December, a new online educational channel called Eduflix was launched. It helps students in revising the curriculum by answering questions that do not examine their ability to memorise the subjects but to understand and analyse.
Mahmoud Hassouna, the spokesman for the Ministry of Education and Technical Education, said the ministry’s operations room is following up on a daily basis developments related to the pandemic. It is also monitoring the educational process to remove any obstacles and ensure that the process continues. He repeated that the ministry has no intention of cancelling the school year.
“The school year will continue whatever the situation. In case the pandemic worsens, ministry officials will find a way to finish the school year without any cancellation because we want to continue the curriculum for the students and to provide students with a fair evaluation,” Hassouna said.
Both Hegazi and Hassouna confirmed that the ministry does not have any intention of either suspending or postponing the school year as it will not annul any parts of the curriculum or replace the final exams with projects as was done last year.
Hegazi noted that the ministry decided to conduct the final Thanaweya Amma exams electronically at ministry-supervised locations. “The locations will be technically equipped to facilitate the exam process for students. Each student will have their own tablet. And these exam halls will be electronically supervised,” confirmed Hegazi.
“Parents and students paid teachers to do the projects for them just to pass the year; they did not benefit from them. So, it is meaningless to repeat this,” Hassouna said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly