“The schools are open to everyone who needs it.” In front of the media late on Friday afternoon, Education Minister Heinz Faßmann summarized the procedure for school operations during the three-week Austria-wide lockdown until December 12th. In schools there are “lessons according to the timetable”, but parents can leave their children at home without a corona certificate. The minister rated the procedure as advantageous for reducing contact, because it creates “sealed classrooms”.
Many directors were actually sitting on pins and needles hours beforehand: in schools, classes ended on Friday lunchtime for hundreds of thousands of students, and it was only during the course of the morning that it became clear that there would be an Austria-wide lockdown from Monday. Will parents choose to keep their children at home? Will the school children therefore be given school supplies to take home with them, were the questions?
Officially, after the nationwide lockdown has been announced, schools across Austria will remain open for everyone from November 22nd to December 13th, but parents have the option of leaving their schoolchildren at home with an excuse without a medical certificate. “Classroom lessons at schools according to the timetable, children can be taken out”, was the first information in the office of Education Minister Heinz Fassmann on Friday morning at the request of the “Wiener Zeitung”. Schools throughout Austria will be based on the planned model for the federal states of Upper Austria and Salzburg, which announced the general lockdown from November 22 on Thursday for their country on Thursday.
Appeal from Schallenberg to leave children at home
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at the press conference with the governors in Tyrol that there was a “clear appeal” to parents to leave their children at home if possible. According to the education department, lessons in schools will continue according to the planned timetable throughout Austria.
The Minister of Education affirmed in the afternoon due to the corona tests, which vaccinated students also have to undergo during the lockdown, that schools are “a controlled place” despite the high overall number of infections in the population: “Our tests break the chain of infection.” In addition, the regulations for The wearing of protective masks is also tightened in class. Furthermore, from previous lockdowns one has the experience that especially people of the same age need “social encounters”.
In general, face-to-face teaching is carried out in the schools by the teachers. There will be no comprehensive distance learning like over months in the previous school year or a “hybrid” lesson. However, students who stay at home should be particularly challenged. In the case of younger students, this is more likely to be done through work-study packages, and in the case of older students via digital learning platforms, explained Faßmann in his press statement from 5 p.m.
There were doubts and even incomprehension about the government’s strategy against the pandemic among teachers and parents’ representatives. “They all don’t know how it works,” said the head of the Vienna Parents’ Association, Karl Dwulit. The federal government is handing over responsibility to parents and teachers.
“Wild growth” and failures depending on the school
There will be a “wild growth” in schools depending on the epidomological situation, predicted Thomas Bulant, head of the social democratic teachers’ association, in an interview with the “Wiener Zeitung”. There are sometimes breakthroughs in vaccinations and thus failures of teachers, but that varies from school to school.
Directors upset about communication
From a pedagogical point of view, he welcomed keeping schools open for the students. The teacher representative expressed incomprehension, however, because a lockdown would reduce the number of contacts. “We cannot guarantee that schools will not become virus multipliers,” he warned.
There was a lot of outrage among directors about the type of communication by the Ministry of Education, because they were the first to find out about the measures from the media and angry parents also had to refer to media reports. The top teacher representative Paul Kimberger (Christian trade union) also hit this point. Like Bulant, he doubted that the chosen procedure would result in the necessary reduction in contacts to contain the pandemic.
It is unclear how many students are coming
The Minister of Education is sticking to his line that there will be no nationwide return to home teaching and distance learning for the pupils, as was the case for months in the previous school year. It is completely open, however, how many children will actually come to school for class. The number of corona-infected students has recently increased, especially in Upper Austria, and more than 400 school classes recently had to be quarantined.
In Salzburg and Upper Austria there was a certain discrepancy between the goals of the education minister and those of governors Wilfried Haslauer and Thomas Stelzer (both ÖVP). Faßmann placed the face-to-face lessons on the timetable in the foreground, while the country chiefs expressly called on parents to leave their children at home if possible. In addition, special learning packages have been created, which means that around 120,000 teachers will have additional work to do during the three-week general lockdown.