Wednesday, October 20

The classes of schools and institutes will be able to have as many students in September as before the pandemic | Education

An elementary class in a public school in Navarra, in March.
An elementary class in a public school in Navarra, in March.Carlos Gil-Roig

Classes in schools and institutes will have more or less the same number of students in September as before the pandemic, according to the agreement reached this Wednesday by the Minister of Education, Isabel Celaá, and the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, with the regional councilors of both branches. The communities have obtained, as they had requested, permission to put more students per classroom, with the aim of guaranteeing full attendance at all educational stages and at the same time reducing costs.

The foreseeable consequence of the measure is the elimination of duplications and the departure of a good part of the 35,000 teachers (there were 39,000 in the first quarter) who have joined this course in the education system due to the pandemic, despite the requests from the educational community to consolidate them and make a leap in the quality of teaching. Minister Celaá joined this request this Wednesday after the meeting with the councilors in the joint session of the Education Sector Conference and the Interterritorial Health Council: “The autonomous communities must commit themselves and are committing themselves to at least the reinforcement teaching resources that they have been counting on this year. We have to turn adversity into an opportunity to accelerate the recovery of an educational system that faced the pandemic after years of cuts and weakness, ”Celaá declared.

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The reinforcements of this course have been financed to a large extent by the educational covid fund, of 1,600 million euros, approved last summer. And Celaá has indicated that the Government will now transfer 10,000 million from the European recovery fund to invest in health, education and social policies, which is added, he said, of the extraordinary 13,400 million that the Treasury has already announced for the autonomies. A “colossal” injection, Celaá stressed, with which the ministries should maintain the educational investment and dedicate it to formulas such as co-teaching and reinforcement programs.

While the communities clarify their plans, the document approved this Wednesday contemplates that the classes of the schools will be able to have the same students as a normal year: up to 25 in kindergarten (this year there are 20) and 30 in primary (now there are 25 ), according to the maximum ratios that each autonomy has established in its regulations. This has changed, at the request of the communities, with respect to the initial proposal raised last week by the Ministries of Health and Education, which contemplated maintaining the limitations of students in this course. What will be maintained is the bubble group formula, which means that children in the same group do not need to keep their distance, but they cannot mix with peers from other classes.

In the institutes, the criterion of keeping interpersonal distance will be applied again, but reduced. Instead of 1.5 meters, it will be 1.2 meters. The change is important because it means that almost all classes will have the same students as in the pre-pandemic era. For decades, the regulations that regulate the minimum requirements of educational centers establish that in high school classes there must be “a minimum of 1.5 square meters per school position.” Translated to the surface, the interpersonal distance of 1.2 meters agreed for the course means that 1.44 square meters must be respected per student and classroom, that is, less than what the basic legislation establishes.

Students from a school in Vitoria in April.
Students from a school in Vitoria in April.PRADIP J. PHANSE

The return to the classroom will be, at the same time, very different from that of a normal course. Although the scenario that can be expected for the beginning of the course is increasingly optimistic, the document recalls that childhood vaccination is not defined, and it is possible that there are variants that escape the immunizations developed by laboratories. Therefore, students and school personnel must continue to wear masks, schools will be organized in strict shifts of entry, exit, dining room and patio, and the best possible ventilation of the classes and other facilities will be maintained.

If the indicators of the pandemic improve and the scenario that Health describes as a “new normal” is reached (which includes parameters such as a 14-day incidence of less than 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and an occupancy of critical beds of less than 5% per part of covid patients), part of the measures will be able to relax and in schools, for example, bubble groups will be able to coincide in the courtyard with students from other classes of the same level.

“Important measures are maintained”

The epidemiologist Quique Bassat, a member of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics, who has advised the Ministry of Health in the design of the protocol for the next course, believes that despite having made some points more flexible, the approved document is adequate. “The measures that we believe are most important are maintained, which are above all those based on the use of masks indoors and ventilation in classrooms. It is true that the teacher-to-student ratio and interpersonal distance are reduced, but we believe that what is proposed is reasonable and that it will help to prevent infections among children and adolescents, who will presumably be the last to be vaccinated ”.

In the case of children, it has not even been decided if it will be necessary, Bassat says, and there is still some time to know the results of the clinical trials that are underway. With teenagers things seem clearer. The US has already authorized vaccines for the 12 to 17-year-old population and the EU, the pediatrician believes, will do so shortly. If there are no surprises, Bassat predicts that adolescents will be vaccinated by Christmas at the latest and may consider raising some of the prevention standards in schools. The process, the Minister of Health has suggested, could begin even before the start of the course.

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