Parents and education experts in Armenia are questioning the wisdom of the latest decision of the government to reopen schools in September with a number of coronavirus-related safety measures put in place to avoid major outbreaks of the disease.
Shushan Doydoyan, a mother of four school-age children, considers the re-opening of schools with restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Education ineffective.
In all schools re-opening on September 15 students will have to wear face masks during classes, schools will have to provide disinfectants, and classrooms will need to be disinfected every day before and after classes. Instead of five days, lessons will be held six days a week to reduce class hours. There will be a maximum of 20 students in classrooms and classes will be held in two shifts. Less time spent by children at schools will also help keep school canteens closed, authorities say.
“A decision that is detached from the needs of the public has been made. No one has asked the opinion of parents or teachers. The public has not been involved in the making of these decisions at all,” Doydoyan complained.
She believes that proper control over the safety measures at schools is impossible. “In any case, they are children. Without parental supervision and with one teacher for more than 10 children, it is simply impossible to properly monitor how correctly and safely they wear masks, because a mask protects only if worn correctly and safely. If you constantly touch it with dirty hands, if you drop it on the floor and then put it back on your face, it is fraught with unpredictable health problems,” Dodoyan said.
Samvel Martirosian, a teacher at the Aregnazan educational complex attended by about 400 students, expects “chaos” to reign in schools after September 15.
“The educational process will be very difficult for teachers considering that they will have to go to work also on Saturdays. There is a big question about whether it is a wise decision. I believe that in a month or two teachers will simply start running out of steam. I think that the situation will descend into chaos unless mistakes are addressed and new solutions are found along the way,” Martirosian said.
Education specialist Serob Khachatrian believes that the introduction of a six-day school week increases the risks for those students and parents who use public transport. He suggests that schools be reopened for only students in grades 1-6, while students of higher grades should continue to study online.
“If the duration of the lesson is shortened, say, to 25-30 minutes, then in this case the question will again arise: which is better – to go to school for a 25-minute lesson or conduct a 45-minute lesson remotely?” he said.
The specialist also thinks that intervals between lessons should be made at different times for different classrooms so that children could leave classrooms. “A lot of aggression may accumulate in children if they are kept in classrooms during class breaks,” Khachatrian said.
Pediatrician Mari Darakchian said that children attending schools should have their body temperature measured properly, schools must have a certain supply of masks and teachers must have special training to work with children in such conditions.
“If correct psychological work is carried out with children, they will wear masks with great pleasure. In the lower grades it can be done through play, for older children, of course, it should be done through explanatory work,” Darakchian said.
Earlier this week Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian stressed that wearing face masks is the best way to prevent the spread of infection in schools and the more properly masks are worn, the more likely it is that these restrictions will be removed in the near future.
Armenia has recorded more than 42,000 coronavirus cases and 833 deaths since the start of the epidemic. In recent weeks, however, the country’s heath authorities have been reporting a decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The current state of emergency in Armenia that was first introduced in March and led to the closure of all schools ends on September 11. The government has indicated that it will not seek its extension unless the coronavirus situation takes a turn for the worse.