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No hugs as classes around Thailand restart

The resumption of on-site learning for the first time in almost two years has seen the joyful yet cautious reunion of students and teachers at the beginning of the new school term, with health and safety measures put in place due to Covid-19.

l”I’m overjoyed to meet my friends again. It’s been more than a year of separation,” said Natthawara Boontae, a sixth-grader at Wat Ratchanatda School run by City Hall. “Still, hugging each other is a no-no,” she said.

Nothing beats a face-to-face encounter, a welcome break from almost two years glued to computer screens for online classes. The pandemic confined students to their homes and limited their interactions with school friends to FaceTime and phone calls.

Natthawara said she played with neighbours although she is not as close to them as her schoolmates.

“Coming to school is so much better than staying home. The school is strict about dealing with Covid-19 and students are reminded to keep their guard up,” she said.

The downside is that outside the home, she is more exposed to the virus and there was no telling if people in public areas are serious about practising self-protection measures against it.

But online classes hurt the quality of education, she said. Internet connections were weak in places and some students had problems accessing WiFi or were not adequately equipped to study remotely.

“We had to be highly disciplined to study online,” she said.

Sureenipa Chanthai, another Wat Ratchanatda School sixth-grader, said on Tuesday she and her school friends had a lot of catching up to do.

“If it wasn’t for Covid, we would have jumped at each other and hugged,” Sureenipa said.

But studying online was not all doom and gloom for her. She had more time to spend with her grandparents who raised her from a young age while her father was away working as a cook.

“Online learning didn’t leave me much opportunity to consult teachers about the lessons. I had to watch recorded sessions afterwards to improve my understanding,” she said.

“I never could get used to studying in a non-physical class,” Sureenipa added.

Like other schools nationwide, Wat Ratchanatda was fully prepared for the new academic term.

As part of that, it has installed sensor-operated body temperature scanners at the entrance, allocated an ATK test area and there is sanitiser gel available throughout the premises.

Thanakorn Chaisit, a teacher there, said the school has fitted a divider at every table in the canteen and students come for lunch at staggered hours.

In the classroom, tables are spaced apart for the sake of social distancing.

Wearing a mask is compulsory at all times in class although students can remove them when they are outdoors.

Students with a fever will be quarantined in special rooms. Those running a high temperature will be sent for proper care by the public health authorities.

The teacher noted it may be difficult to visually detect a sick student since the virus often does not show symptoms.

Thitachada Boonthavorn, the mother of Thatisak Boonthavorn, a fourth-grader at Rachawinit School, said she felt excited for her son. The teacher is giving students who need it the chance to revise their studies during online classes as some might have had problems keeping up.

“I let him know he must exercise health safety,” she said. “I gave him two masks to use in a day for added protection.”

In Hat Yai district of Songkhla, the resumption of on-site learning caused rush-hour traffic to snarl in the downtown precinct where four large schools are located.

One of them is Hat Yai Witthayalai Somboon Kulkanya School. Its 3,700 students have all received double doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to Kritsana Kong-in, the deputy school director.

In Narathiwat, Supote Maneerattanachote, director of the provincial primary education service area office, said he was concerned that some students and their parents might not be fully aware of all the health protection measures put in place.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, two students who turned up for class on Tuesday tested positive for Covid-19 at Muang Nakhon Ratchasima School, according to the school. Classes continued under the Education Ministry’s safety measures.

Meanwhile, city clerk Khachit Chatchawanit, said although all schools in Bangkok have reopened with on-site learning, parents had the option of continuing online studies for their children.

Mr Khachit said that 98% of teachers in Bangkok’s schools have been vaccinated.

Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong said she has emphasised to schools that they must strictly implement health-safety measures for the protection of everyone.

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