How to get kids back to the classroom

Students shouldn't miss out on the social aspect of being at school, and fortunately there are solutions

epa08515448 Students wearing protective face masks during a class at a reopened school amid an easing of coronavirus restrictions in Dili, Timor Leste, also known as East Timor, 29 June 2020. The government reopened some qualified schools with cover-19 protocol.  EPA/ANTONIO DASIPARU

International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12 each year. For 2020, the UN selected "Youth Engagement for Global Action" as the theme of the commemoration, a pertinent one given the events that have transpired this past year, with individuals all across the globe facing similar challenges and life-changing transformations.

School-going children have had to switch to a completely new e-learning model that has proven challenging for both them and their teachers. Educators do not have prior experience nor training in teaching children via video calls, while students have trouble focusing on online lessons for extended periods. Moreover, they are missing out on the social aspect of being at school – an essential component of the overall learning experience.

Despite the drawbacks, students have been eager to adapt and power through the situation. Clearly, the youth of this generation is resilient, aware and creative. Now it is up to us – their parents, teachers, leaders – to empower them with the right mix of tools they need in order to grow and achieve their full potential.

Perhaps on this year's International Youth Day, we can consider creative solutions to get children across the region back into classrooms, while observing safety and social distancing measures.

In a thought-provoking article for the Financial Times, Jonathan Marvel, a prominent architect and founding principal at Marvel Architects, based in New York and San Juan, outlined some useful ideas to get children back to classrooms safely for the next academic year.

Mr Marvel noted that the pandemic has led many cities to close down streets due to the limited use of commercial indoor spaces. For example, al fresco dining is now the preferred choice in restaurants. Streets are being used for summer recreation, which works well given the reduced traffic as more people work from home. Mr Marvel points out that these spaces can be transformed into makeshift classrooms once the school year begins.

The GCC region has exceptional capabilities and holds vast experience in creating temporary spaces for world-class events – so this concept is definitely implementable in our region. We host myriad industry conferences and trade shows in addition to a wide variety of consumer events every year. We possess the raw materials, collapsible furniture and electrical equipment required to help extend school spaces beyond their brick-and-mortar premises.

With some meticulous planning and investment, we will be able to create classrooms that can allow fewer students to be in a room at a time, and thereby observe mandatory safety measures against the coronavirus.

Adnec already being repurposed

This step would significantly reduce the number of individuals in close contact with one another at schools, while allowing students to resume their studies with some semblance of normality. Larger spaces will allow them to maintain safe distance and reduce the risk of contagion.

Above all else, supporting the reopening of schools would boost student morale and serve as an excellent illustration of overcoming unprecedented challenges through finding creative, yet practical solutions.

Of course, this initiative will require the government and education ministries to work closely with the events and exhibitions industry. It also necessitates the mobilisation of considerable resources and investments, albeit those that will provide excellent returns.

Not only will students be inspired to get back to school premises, this solution is certain to alleviate the stress parents are undergoing – pushing their children to stay focused and stimulated from the confines of their homes.

With children back at school, it will mean working parents will have more time and energy to channel towards their professional roles, which will lead to more efficiency and a spike in morale. We can start to move closer to the routines that we were used to before the pandemic hit, albeit with cautiousness needed to keep future infection rates at a minimum.

School preparations ...

Overall, this exercise will boost productivity and enable our region to rebuild the economy and ensure that recovery happens sooner rather than later.

We need to remember that our young generations are exceptionally talented, and it is our responsibility to enable them to unlock their full potential and become active contributors to society. The most powerful lessons are taught by example and we must demonstrate our confidence in our children and their future by channelling all the resources we possibly can towards their secure and prosperous future.

In the spirit of International Youth Day, I encourage you to take a moment to think about the present scenario and the challenges our children are facing. We must all join forces to support them as much as possible and shape solutions that will help them navigate their way through the global pandemic while preparing them to deal with any future crises that may occur in an agile and effective manner.

Mohammed Alardhi is executive chairman of Investcorp, chairman of Bank Sohar and was longest-serving Omani head of the Royal Air Force of Oman

Mohammed Alardhi

Mohammed Alardhi

Mohammed Alardhi is executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Bank Sohar, and was the longest-serving Omani head of the Royal Air Force of Oman