The 609 public and private schools across the country would begin their new academic year in less than a week. Students are excited to return to school. It has been a long year confined mostly in their homes learning virtually.

For many without resources to follow the online lessons, it has been a difficult year running errands for the family and tending to farm work. School means proper meals, fair learning opportunities and safety. While children are excited to return to school, some parents are not confident.

Many schools have close to a thousand students. In government schools, over 40 students are crammed into a small classroom where social distancing would be impossible.

The fact that more than a dozen students got infected at Shaba MSS makes them anxious. Covid-19 cases were also reported in three other schools. Many fear if adequate measures are not in place, schools could spark the third outbreak.

That the health and education ministries are placing strict measures is a little comforting. There will be guidelines mandating schools to ensure strict use of face masks, washing hands, and physical distancing as far as possible. The health ministry will also conduct random testing of students in high-risk areas every fortnight.

Staggering the start and close of the school day, staggering mealtimes, moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors, and holding school in shifts to reduce class size are some other options.

There could be problems. There are schools that have yet to complete construction of washbasins. Others have budget constraints. Since lockdown stopped many planned works in gewogs and thromdes, some funds could be diverted to build as many hand washing basins and a continuous water supply.

Schools should take parents on board. Meet them in small groups, inform them of their duties. Teachers and parents have an important role in ensuring that children understand, learn and follow the new rules in schools.

Teachers in early grades will have to put in  special effort through play-based learning to be able to help children adapt to the new ways of learning in schools. Schools will also have to communicate clearly these new rules with parents so that they are aware, and they also support their children in practicing them and developing these habits.

Parents need to check their child’s health before school. If their child is showing signs of cold or flu, they should not go to school. If they are showing Covid-19 symptoms, help must be sought immediately.

All adults have a role to play in modelling behaviour so that our children can follow as well. The pandemic is a collective problem, it’ll need a collective solution.

We will have to stick to these best practices until there is a vaccine for our children.