KUWAIT: Children head back to school in this file photo.

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: A group called Education First has been tirelessly campaigning for the safe reopening of schools in Kuwait, arguing that an entire generation has been out of school for over a year. All public and private educational institutions in Kuwait (with a few exemptions for special needs schools) have been closed for on-campus learning since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Educational consultant and Education First advocate Dr Duna Al-Mashaan told Kuwait Times the public has responded positively to the campaign. “Through our Education First campaign, we’ve garnered support from many sectors of society. Our pledge, advocating for the safe return to schools, was posted on all social media channels, making it the number one trending hashtag on Twitter, thanks to corporations, banks, restaurants, parents and newspaper channels,” she said.

Dr Duna Al-Mashaan

“With the right health precautions and a reduction in the number of students in classrooms, social distancing, mask wearing and proper ventilations of schools, we can safely bring back students back into the classrooms,” Mashaan said. “There are a few capable schools ready to welcome their students today with the hybrid model, which combines in-classroom face-to-face and online learning into one cohesive educational experience. This allows for the reduction of the (in-person) student population by 50 percent,” she added.

“Given the opportunity, these schools will serve as pilot programs for others. Getting schools to open with the required safety protocols set by the health ministry requires strategizing, planning, teacher and staff training, identifying the capital needed, and of course, flexibility,” Mashaan noted. Education First is calling on the government to allow parents to select the best learning model for their children (online or in-person), coordinate between the ministry of health and education and initiate a vaccination campaign for all school personnel.

Many government schools require maintenance of the entire facility, installation of digital infrastructures and the application of strict health guidelines. Education First is urging the education ministry to begin working today as it requires months of preparation for these schools to open their doors for the safe return of students and teachers.

An English teacher from a private school in Salwa also emphasized the importance of face-to-face classes and allowing children to return to classrooms. “Online classes are not only cruel and difficult for both students and teachers, but are also teaching our children to be lazy. If there are strict safety protocols that can be followed by students and teachers, we need to return to campus as soon as possible. We need them in a real school environment,” she told Kuwait Times.

“If you realize how devastating the current online setup is for children’s future and wellbeing, you wouldn’t waste time arguing how important face-to-face classes are for children. One year of not going to school is long enough; we cannot afford to be defeated completely by this pandemic. We want our kids socializing and talking to their peers. These are our responsibilities towards the next generation,” the teacher said.

Jannah, a preparatory teacher in Jahra, said she is halfhearted when it comes to the issue of children going back to school. “I am torn with regards to their return to school because I have kids of my own. I’m afraid they’ll contract COVID-19 if I allow them to go to school. I am sure these concerns are shared by many parents because kids don’t care much about safety,” she said.

“But at the same time, we have a situation that needs to be remedied before it is too late for us to act, because it’s been more than a year now. I don’t want children studying alone at home most of the time in front of the computer. I don’t want to continue learning the way we are doing it online, as there are alternative ways and means for kids to learn amidst the pandemic. But when it comes to choosing between safety and the need to give children normalcy and freedom to learn on-campus, I am adamant,” she said.

A mother-of-three also told Kuwait Times she would rather wait for the situation in the entire world to stabilize before allowing her children to go back to school. “I better wait until everything is ready, even if it takes years. So long as they are safe at home, I am okay with it. I won’t allow them to go to school if we are still counting deaths because of corona.

Never…I don’t want to lose any of my children. I will never forgive myself if this happens,” said the Filipina expat, whose three children are all enrolled at private schools in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh. “How I wish everything goes back to normal. I want them to play freely without fearing for their lives,” she added.