Back to School amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

After an eight-month closure, schools in Indonesia are starting to reopen in low-risk areas. For many students, being at home has been hard. “I feel uncomfortable studying from home,” says 13-year-old Angelina. “I’m happy to be back at school and have mixed feelings of joy and excitement.”

To support children returning to school on the island of Lembata, where there has only been one recorded case of COVID-19, Plan International worked together with the government and school authorities to implement hygiene measures to ensure students stay safe.

Working with the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Health, we developed a COVID-19 response plan for schools. Each school was assessed using a checklist to determine whether it met the conditions needed to reopen. Our back-to-school campaign also encouraged parents to send their children back to the classroom.

We have installed handwashing stations at school entrances and donated contactless infrared thermometers to check children’s temperature as they arrive each day. Students and teachers have been provided with face masks, face shields and hand sanitiser to help curb the spread of the virus and asked to practice social distancing while in class and the playground.

Schools are operating a phased opening three days a week from 8am to 1pm. Class sizes have been reduced and children do not share desk space. For students like Angelina, learning at home has been a real struggle due to: “the lack of guidance from teachers and poor internet access.” She says that if remote learning were to continue, she would need better support and an internet data package.

Angelina happily wears her mask in school and understands the importance of social distancing. “My friends and I voluntarily cover our faces, not only for protection but also to show our awareness about COVID-19. After the challenge of distance learning, we want to return to school and are ready to comply with the new safety regulations.”

As well as helping school communities develop safe operating models and promoting good hygiene practices, Plan International is offering mental health and psychosocial training for teachers and support on how to prepare lesson plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walkie-talkie radio sets have also been delivered to schools with poor communication signals and no internet access to help teachers maintain contact with children during the days when the schools are closed.

Angelina, who is part of our sponsorship programme, tells us all the precautions that are now in place have made her feel safe at school. “I get my temperature checked and wash my hands carefully with soap and water before the beginning of class and I’m okay with that. Thanks to Plan International, I have a nice face mask and face shield. My schoolbag, table and chair are also sprayed with disinfectant before the class begins. I’m not worried anymore as I feel protected wearing these devices.”

Oleh: Margreini Regina