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Turkey to rely on COVID-19 vaccinations to resume in-person classes

Turkey to rely on COVID-19 vaccinations to resume in-person classes

Although the rise in COVID-19 cases shows no signs of abating, Turkey’s expanding vaccination program has given hope to resume in-person education.

Schools were scheduled to reopen in the first week of September but millions of students and parents were frustrated over a return to the “hybrid” model which involved both in-person and online classes adopted last year. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced Wednesday that the schools would reopen for in-person education.

“It is not possible for us to compromise in-person education … We will take necessary measures to protect students and their families,” Koca said in a speech following a meeting of his ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board meeting. Minister of National Education Mahmut Özer had already announced that they were intent on reopening schools and would not wait for the end of the pandemic.

Vaccination is a social responsibility that cannot be left up to choice anymore, Koca said adding that teachers, instructors and families of the students should be vaccinated.

The country launched a normalization process on July 1, lifting all curfews and reopening all businesses closed due to the pandemic, from restaurants and cafes to gyms. In the meantime, it boosted its vaccination program by lowering the vaccine eligibility age to 18.

Selçuk Pehlivanoğlu, chairperson of the Turkish Education Association, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that sticking to online education would cause serious problems for Turkish education as knowledge gained from a distance can also be “forgotten” faster, especially among early age groups.

“You can’t have students below the age of 15 studying in a remote environment all the time. We cannot afford to keep schools closed,” he said. Pehlivanoğlu noted that education needed a new management system now, which would also address the issue of the learning gap among students who either skipped online classes or had to contend with a shorter curriculum due to disruptions in the school year amid pandemic. During the summer, the Education Ministry offered remedial education for students but it was on a voluntary basis. Pehlivanoğlu says it should be mandatory and applied during the new school year.

Authorities did not clarify whether in-person education would be mandatory but last year, the students were provided with the option to take classes online. Pehlivanoğlu says authorities should make parents “feel safe” about schools so they can send their children back to school. “They should be assured that their children would not face a life-threatening situation when they attend school,” he said. He suggested excluding chronically ill students and teachers from in-person education for a while and ensuring more education staff is vaccinated.

“Some 60% of education staff is vaccinated and 80% of teachers at the age of 40 and above have received two doses. We will have to require all teachers to have both their doses or to present results of their polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at least twice a week,” he said.