Why are teachers unhappy with coronavirus restrictions at school?

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

New academic year in quarantine - what to be ready for?
22:47, 1 September 2020

A principal of one of Kyiv's schools violated safety rules during a lockdown
Open source

Here comes already September 1, and teachers and parents are sounding the alarm about education in a pandemic - allegedly some of the established norms are absurd and ineffective. What exactly does the educational community dislike and how can this be corrected?

Ukrainian schools are actively preparing for the start of the school year, which this year will be held under the slogan “Say No to Coronavirus”. Masks, protective shields, ventilation, disinfection, the introduction of a mixed type of education or training in two shifts, a different schedule for students of different grades and markings on the floor - this is just a part of the recommendations specified in the decree of the chief state sanitary doctor of Ukraine Viktor Lyashko. Some of them have been discussed more than once, in particular the topic of masks and conditions of distance.

Masks. At first, there was a recommendation that all students in grades 1-4 during breaks should move around the school wearing masks, but later this decision was changed (they were allowed to move without masks), because there was a lot of talk about whether the pupils of the elementary school would be able to put on a mask: an elementary school student may not understand how to remove the mask so as not to touch its outside, and also forget to disinfect his hands before putting it on and after removing it.

The question of the use of masks by teachers in their work was also raised several times. Teachers noted that the mask impedes communication, so it was decided that the use and type of personal protective equipment (mask, respirator, face shield) was chosen by him at his own discretion. The main thing was to maintain a safe distance (in the "green" and "yellow" zones). As for the regions of the "orange" zone, the Decree recommended that training be carried out in protective shields that do not hinder communication of the teacher with the students.

In the context of this recommendation, it seems interesting that the state decided to provide schools with masks only (1 mask for three hours of work). Protective shields for their own safety and convenience, teachers should buy themselves or rely on the help of organizations and trade unions. For example, the Kyiv Teachers' Union will provide the capital's teachers with protective shields throughout September.

"This is our feasible contribution to preserving the lives and health of people during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Oleksandr Yatsun, chairman of the Kyiv city organization of workers of education and science of Ukraine.

Conditions for distancing. Another controversial issue was the recommendations for distance (separation of students of different ages, minimization of the movement of students in the educational institution). One of the methods for fulfilling these conditions, the state sees the introduction of training in two shifts (it is noted that this will solve a number of issues related to the organization of the educational process in a pandemic). However, according to a study conducted by the State Service for the Quality of Education, not all school principals and even parents agree with the expediency of such innovations (only 9% of the interviewed principals and 40% of parents are ready and positive about such changes).

One way or another, but these are only recommendations, so educational institutions received freedom (we will talk about this rather controversial concept a little later) to act at their own discretion within the framework of these recommendations. That is, for example, some schools decide to work in person for a week, and remotely for a week, while others switch to training in two shifts.

In particular, the Lyceum No. 157 chose the latter option in the fight against coronavirus infection.

“We have almost 1,500 children, so we had to make sure that they overlap as little as possible. Junior grades and graduates (grades 9-11) will attend school in the first shift, the rest of the classes - in the second,” says the history teacher of the institution Serhiy Berendeev.

Also, according to the teacher of the highest category, besides this, the school listened to a number of other recommendations: the corresponding markings were made in the classrooms, disinfectants were placed, and the classes were divided into subgroups.

Another option for distancing was shared by one of the schools in the city of Cherkasy: “Students will enter the school at a certain time (each class has its own time). For example, fourth and second grades - at 8:15 through emergency doors, first and third - at 8:10 through the central ones. The break was made in order to reduce the flow of children who simultaneously enter the room."

Also, the school developed a schedule for taking a break and visiting the cafeteria for each class, the students were divided into groups and decided to assign one classroom to each class for all lessons (except for physical education and computer science).

In addition to these issues, which educational institutions can still solve at their own discretion and on their own, there are a number of others in which, according to the teachers themselves, the state left them face to face with the pandemic.

What does not suit teachers? 

The responsibility was shifted to educational institutions. Let's return to the concept of "freedom" that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Science have provided to educational institutions. This freedom manifests itself in actions that must be performed within the framework of recommendations (without a specific obligation) or should not be carried out - all the same, the responsibility for everything falls on the shoulders of institutions.

"The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health have actually taken off responsibility, because they have placed all responsibility for the organization of the educational process and the observance of all norms exclusively on the directors of educational institutions. And, as a result, it turns out that a single system, uniform standards cannot be created, therefore as a rule, directors proceed from the capabilities of their base, the number of children, "Serhiy Berendev explains the current situation.

Related: Over 6,000 Ukrainian schools not connected to Internet

It turns out that in case of detection of cases of the disease, it is not the ministries that should be responsible for this, but the school administration itself, because the state provided recommendations, that is, it did everything possible, and the whole problem lies only in the fact that the school director did not follow them correctly.

Moreover, financing of establishments (for preventive or disinfection measures) is entrusted to local governments (administrations). “Administrations have different incomes, different finances and different opportunities, so they cannot always find these funds. Where do these funds go, especially since the agreements provide for the allocation of certain funds for education and security in educational institutions?" adds the teacher.

Additional load. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, any educational worker (from a cleaning lady to a teacher of a higher education institution) has a lot of responsibilities that are not provided for by their job descriptions.

"The teachers call and inform about the possible imposition of additional duties on them. For example, the teacher is told that he will have to carry out wet cleaning, which is illegal, because there are duties of the teacher and, according to them, this is not his direct responsibility," notes Viktoria Solominchuk, legal adviser of the Kyiv city organization of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine.

It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the working conditions, bringing with them, for example, measuring body temperature at the entrance or airing the premises, but the Kyiv city organization of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine notes that scientific and pedagogical workers must fulfill their duties provided for by job descriptions, these are primarily duties related to teaching.

In addition, teachers, talking about their expectations from the educational process in a pandemic, talk about an increase in the load due to the division of classes into groups, about the psychological aspect of restraining students, especially junior grades, during a break.

"It will be difficult to withstand the heat when a child just needs to throw out energy," says a teacher at one of the educational institutions in the city of Cherkasy.

In addition, due to the fact that parents, in accordance with the recommendations, will not be allowed to enter school, teachers will act as a mother for first graders, helping them to undress and go to class (during the cold season).

Surcharges / insurance. The issue of allowances for teachers was raised even during the quarantine. For example, according to Victoria Solominchuk, there were attempts to remove additional payments for classroom guidance and for checking exercise books in some cases. Therefore, today the position of teachers is to keep them absolutely all allowances and surcharges. After all, if during the educational process the region goes into the "red zone", and, accordingly, schools will have to switch to distance learning again, teachers should be confident in their material support.

Moreover, today, in the conditions of training during a pandemic, teachers also note the need to increase wages: they will be in large teams and contact children, who are most often asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus. This topic is especially relevant in the context of risk groups, because, for example, in the capital there are an extremely large number of elderly education workers (young people do not want to go to school, despite dozens of vacancies). Therefore, today we are talking about establishing an additional allowance at a fixed rate of 50% for work in harmful working conditions.

"The sectoral agreement between the trade union and the ministry and other authorities stipulates that in the event of an epidemic (work in difficult conditions), the allowance should be increased for teachers. Now the government bonus is 30%, they are obliged to increase it to 50% (this is material motivation to work in such difficult conditions)", says the teacher of the highest category Serhiy Berendeev.

In addition, the lack of health insurance for teachers is no less important. There is a government decree for physicians who work in infectious diseases boxes and receive health insurance at the expense of the state; this problem has not yet been resolved for teachers.

"The teacher comes into the classroom every morning, so employees of educational institutions must be protected. This also applies to a safe educational environment and raising social standards, including proper wages," say Kyiv city ​​organization of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine.

Protecting the teacher. Among teachers, the decree aroused ambiguous emotions also due to the fact that it practically does not mention the protection, except for the use of personal protective equipment (mask, respirator, protective shield). It is interesting that even if a case of coronavirus disease is confirmed by one of the students, the whole class must go to self-isolation, and what to do in the event that the teacher falls ill?

The symptoms of respiratory disease and the objectivity of the data of non-contact thermometers. The admission of the personnel of educational institutions to work will be carried out only if they use personal protective equipment (respirator, face shield or mask, including one made on their own) after thermometry with a non-contact thermometer. The ordinance notes that workers with respiratory symptoms and a body temperature of 37 ° C will not be allowed to work. However, is it really possible to consider the data of non-contact thermometers as objective if teachers already note a significant error?

"These thermometers are quite inaccurate, there is a very large error when the battery runs out. I sometimes come to work, and my temperature is 32.8 ° C. The question is:" Am I alive? Can I be allowed to work? Or else I come, and I have 35 ° C. Can I be allowed to work in this state?" Serhiy Berendeev shares his experience of using non-contact thermometers.

Another equally controversial recommendation is for the teacher to determine the symptoms of respiratory disease in students before the start of the lesson. Educators are surprised at how it is possible to "by eye" determine the presence of a disease, if many children have coronavirus asymptomatic.

"If a child sneezed in class, why should I call an ambulance right away? Or the teacher coughed, everyone needs to run out into the corridor? Everything is absolutely ill-considered, we are not doctors," adds Serhiy.

What about kindergartens and universities?

If the conditions of education in schools are discussed everywhere, then kindergartens and universities have been ignored. Despite the fact that the kindergartens, unlike other institutions, already have experience of working in a pandemic (they worked in the summer).

There are no special differences in the work of schools and kindergartens: parents must wear a mask when they bring their child to the kindergarten; the employees of the institution are also entrusted with a lot of duties that they have continued to perform since the summer (disinfection, airing the premises, measuring body temperature). Therefore, the issue of benefits and compensations concerns absolutely all teachers who work in conditions of coronavirus infection.

The situation with universities is more complicated. Each institution of higher education must also adhere to the norms provided for by the decree, while it may develop additional rules (those that do not contradict the decree). In which case, students will again switch to online learning, which rests on a number of problems, for example, in the problem of technical support, but, given the likelihood of online learning at school, it has less painful consequences for student performance.

What will happen in practice?

"Solving issues as they come" is the slogan under which the preparation for the educational process takes place. After all, the success of the implementation of the Ministry of Health recommendations depends on their observance not only by school leaders or teachers, but also by children.

It is also interesting that when talking about education in a pandemic, parents and some experts use the concept of a "bubble" (when all classes learn separately from each other and do not intersect). According to the teacher of the highest category Serhiy Berendeev, this only works if tests are carried out and there is confirmed information that everyone who is in the building is clean from the coronavirus: "If testing is not carried out, if workers and students come to school without appropriate survey, then the "bubble" bursts.

This rule will work in a closed institution where children are constantly located, and workers, when starting work, are tested. After all, the problem lies in the fact that at school the children can be controlled by the teachers, and when the lessons are over and the students go home, the teachers will no longer control the children, so it is difficult to predict how long will last the barrier between the coronavirus and the educational institution.

Related: School teachers, pupils have to buy masks at their own expense, - MP

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