Pupils delight at reopening of schools
Education Minister happy on day one but tells them to stay on guard, writes Dumrongkiat Mala
After months of being unable to open, all primary and secondary schools in Thailand on Wednesday resumed academic sessions following a directive by the Ministry of Education.
Teachers wearing face masks and shields arrived early at Yothinburana School in Bangkok, armed with infrared thermometer guns to check students' body temperatures before allowing them in.
The students then queued up to wash their hands with sanitiser gel, keeping 1.5 metres apart from each other, before heading into their classes.
"I'm excited to see my friends and see everyone again but not excited about the work," said seventh-grader Keown Kelvin Rosier. "There must be lots of homework waiting for me!
"It's almost like normal but a little bit different. We're all wearing masks. The school is quieter than usual because they just have half of us here."
Keown's classroom had been reorganised, with desks in neat rows and facing forwards, instead of pushed together into long tables.
The school has split each class into two separate groups, with one half attending at school and the other studying at home.
"This week, I'll be studying at school but next week I'll be at home," said Keown.
Pathit Jityeam, another student in Grade 7, was also thrilled to be back at school and seeing his friends again.
"It's easier learning at school than it was at home," he said. "At home, my younger brother and sister would finish their work earlier than me and it was difficult to concentrate."
With his parents also often working from home, it also tended to be quite crowded, he added.
"It's also more fun to meet and chat with my classmates and teachers in person. It's been quite a while since I did that," he said. "However, some of my best friends are in another group, so I've not met them yet. I hope the Covid-19 pandemic will end soon, so things can return to normal."
Natthida Kingsamer, a teacher at Yothinburana School, said that apart from taking classes, teachers were also required to take their students' temperatures every morning and enter the results on a health report.
"In classes, we have to remind students to keep their distance from their friends. It's part of the school's plan to minimise the risk of the virus," she said.
Narong Kongsomprach, a director of Yothinburana, said the school had been following the guidelines from the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education, and integrating them into its health and safety practices.
"We have prepared a range of safety measures to increase the confidence and safety throughout the school campus," he said.
"That includes recording the health details of students, teachers and staff for at least 14 days prior to the start of the school reopening."
All members of staff and students must wear face masks throughout the school campus and if anyone is found with a temperature equal to, or higher than, 37.5 degrees Celsius, they will be sent home immediately, he said.
Handwashing stations have also been installed in every classroom, library, toilet and office. "Nowhere will be risk-free until the virus is eliminated," said Mr Narong.
"But with all the procedures in place, I think we've made it as safe as we possibly can."
Ketsarawan Kormeeklang, whose daughter attends Yothinburana, said its preventive measures had given her confidence that her child would remain healthy while at school.
"Before the school reopened, I was a worried and even asked my husband 'how about we delay sending the kid to school for a week?'" said Ms Ketsarawan. "But we decided to send her back on time. I came to school myself today to see its preventive measures and I feel less worried."
Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan on Wednesday inspected two large schools in Bangkok -- Yothinburana and Rajinibon -- to ensure they were following the guidelines stipulated by the ministry.
"So far, they've done a good job," he said. "Large schools worry us more than small schools because they have a large number of students and their classrooms have air conditioning. They need to follow the guidelines strictly and cannot let their guard down."
Mr Nataphol said if any student were found to have the coronavirus, a public health team would immediately go to the school and decide whether to shut the place.
"All school staff and students must use the Thai Chana app when checking in and out," he added. "The application will allow officials to quickly reach anyone who had been in close contact with infected people and ensure swift disease control."
There was only slight traffic congestion on the grand reopening day of the country's schools, said the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB).
MPB deputy chief Pol Maj Gen Jirasan Kaewsaeng-ek said even though the number of cars using the roads had increased this had not caused any bad traffic jams.