But in many ways, it’s not school as usual.
When high school seniors returned to school on Wednesday, they had the temperature checked, wore masks on campus and sat at spaced desks, in line with ordinary social distancing practices.
However, within hours of reopening, dozens of schools in Incheon, a city near the capital Seoul, were forced to close again after two students tested coronavirus positive.
South Korea – which has reported over 11,100 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths – appears to be largely under control. Now, the country is trying to return to something that comes close to normal life.
But the experience of South Korea shows that reopening schools does not mean returning to normal and involves constant risks.
Across the region, other countries that have managed to control their outbreaks face similar questions when it comes to education.
A new normal for classes
Student experience in Asia Pacific shows that even when countries reopen schools, this does not mean a return to the old ways.
In South Korea, students don’t go back all at once.
South Korean students have not been in class since before the spring break in February.
Wednesday was the first day of return for high school students, but students of other grades will return in the coming weeks. By June 8, students of all ages are expected to return to school.
On Thursday, the country’s Ministry of Education urged disease prevention inside and outside schools.
The risk of going back
Getting the kids back to school is not without difficulty.
On Thursday, a high school in the South Korean city of Daegu sent students home and closed school after a student tested positive, an official from the Daegu Metropolitan Education Office said. According to the official, the student who tested positive was one of 17 who moved to the dormitories a few days ago.
Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), said Thursday that education is something that needs to be done together with disease prevention. “So we currently believe it should continue in our current response regime, with the cooperation and participation of all our staff,” said Kwon.
On May 13, the authorities of Jilin, a northeastern Chinese city in a province of the same name that borders Russia and North Korea, communicated that all the filmed classes would go online while the area collides with an increase in new cases.
The risk of reopening after a blockade is something that experts and leaders in the region are well aware of.
China’s biggest breathing expert, Zhong Nanshan, told CNN last weekend that the country is still vulnerable to another wave of deadly coronavirus infections. “We are facing a big challenge – it is no better than the foreign countries I think at the moment,” he said.
And when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country was easing restrictions – including allowing children to go back to school – he urged caution.
CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this story.
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