11 July 2024

Like many Thai children, 12-year-old Thayan “Fhan” Wirojsakulchai can’t wait to get back to school, the joy of studying at home having long since evaporated.

For Thayan, it’s great news that his school, Roong Aroon, is about to let him return to classes every day.

“I’m so excited that I will get to see my friends in real life,” the boy said happily. The fully vaccinated youngster will start attending school from Monday (November 1).

Roong Aroon has given parents the choice of sending their children to school, taking online classes or a mix of both. Thayan’s parents have signed him up for “going to school every day”.

Thayan was in Pathom 5 when COVID first emerged in Thailand. He then ended up spending most of his Pathom 6 year online.

“In the beginning, I enjoyed studying from home, but I don’t want that anymore,” the youngster said.

Asked if he was worried about school life in the “new normal” under strict COVID-19 control measures, Thayan said he understands that everyone must adapt to the new situation and respect the rules.

“I’m fine with that,” he said, proudly declaring that he was going to carry a tube of alcohol gel and two masks to school.

He added that he would maintain a safe distance from his friends, even while they’re chatting. As for his favorite sport – football – he realizes that it should be avoided because it would involve risks from close contact with his playmates.

What parents say

Despite worrying that his son might pick up COVID-19, Thayan’s dad Ekapoj says he believes his child is better off at school than at home.

“My wife and I work,” he said. “If our son stays at home, he will be left with our helper, who can only give him food and water. She can’t take care of him in other aspects, which means he will only end up playing games all the time.”

Ekapoj believes it’s time people accepted that COVID-19 is here to stay, and they have to learn to live with it. “I think we should take all the precautions but otherwise live our lives as normal. If we get infected, then we must simply seek treatment.”

He said his son has some protection against the virus since the boy has had two jabs of vaccine. He will review the decision to send Thayan back to school if there is an eruption of new cases.

University lecturer Sakulsri Srisaracam supports the idea of children returning to school, believing that human and social interactions are key to child development.

“I’m not worried about where my son is taught. I know he can focus during online classes, because he’s been studying from home for nearly a year now. But I believe it’s time for him to go back to school so he can develop social skills,” the mother of a seven-year-old said.

She added that her son prefers going to school because he wants to catch up with his friends. However, the bad news is that his school has chosen to continue providing classes solely online.

If the school is unable to resume normal classes, said Sakulsri, then it should at least consider a hybrid set-up.

“For example, they could allow students to attend class in school some days of the week,” she said.

The Education Ministry and schools should come up with a system that is more effective and responsive to the COVID-19 crisis, she added.

“After two years, children have been trained to live with COVID-19. They know how to protect themselves. They wear a mask and wash their hands frequently.”

What the Education Ministry says

Education Minister Treenuch Thienthong said more than 10,000 schools nationwide have either registered for on-site classes or a hybrid setup. These schools will start their new semester on November 1 in some areas and 15 days later in others.

The minister said schools planning to provide on-site learning will have to pass the Thai Stop COVID Plus (TSC+) test and report regularly via the MOECOVID application. Requirements for schools are based on the severity of outbreak in their local area.

For instance, schools in strictly controlled provinces like Bangkok will be able to resume on-site classes if 85 percent of their staff have been double-jabbed. Both students and teachers must also be regularly screened with ATK tests.

“Physical distancing must be strictly observed, and group activities must be staged in a ‘small bubble’,” Treenuch said. “Students must sit at least 1.5 meters apart, etc.”

Schools also need to prepare an emergency response protocol in case of COVID-19 infection among staff or students.

For instance, schools run by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will shut down a classroom for three days if a student tests positive for the virus. During the closure, the room will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

What the Public Health Ministry says

As of late October, about 70 percent of students aged 12 to 18 had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Though breakthrough infections may emerge, experts confirm that vaccination considerably decreases the risk of severe symptoms or death.

According to Dr Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Medical Services Department, more than 100,000 children in Thailand have caught COVID-19 since April this year. Of these children, 30 or 40 have developed COVID-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and at least four developed severe symptoms. No children in Thailand have died of MIS-C.

Vaccination and regular ATK tests are the two core controls for Thailand’s “Sandbox Safety Zone in School” guidelines aimed at ensuring students can safely return to class.

Schools in Bangkok and most other parts of Thailand have been closed for more than 10months since COVID-19 emerged, according to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk