Will Catalan schools reopen to finish the school year?
As the coronavirus crisis keeps students at home, the authorities are starting to look at finishing courses telematically
On Friday, March 13, the Catalan government ordered the closure of all schools, colleges and universities on account of the coronavirus pandemic, a day later the Spanish government declared a state of alarm, which confined everyone to their homes, unless they had to go out for essential reasons, such as shopping or visiting a doctor.
Since then, families in Catalonia and the whole of Spain have remained in quarantine, with children doing homework sent by their teachers and some students attending virtual classes online. However, as the number of covid-19 cases continues to rise, the question of whether there is time to finish the 2019/2020 academic year is increasingly pressing.
Spain's education minister, Isabel Celaá, said that she "hopes" students will be able to return to class before the end of the school year, even if it is for a "short period" of time. "We might think about returning [to school] in May or June, but we will have to see how the pandemic goes," she told a Spanish television channel.
Nor has the Catalan education minister, Josep Bargalló, given up on the school year, which he insisted in a television interview this week "has not finished," although he admitted that whatever happens cannot be considered "normal." Bargalló added that the government will study the situation and make a final decision over Easter.
Reassessing the telematic option
One possibility proposed from the beginning of the crisis was to continue classes telematically, which was rejected by the Catalan authorities as not all families have access at home to the necessary resources, such as an internet connection. However, Bargalló said that the government is now looking into that possibility as the only option left.
"The school year has not finished"
Josep Bargalló · Catalan education minister
According to the minister, the government is trying to assess whether it will be possible to reach every student in the country, even those who have no internet connection or lack the necessary devices, and on Friday, Bargalló said that the authorities were collecting unwanted smartphones that could be given to families who lack them.
As for the Spanish authorities, Celaá insisted on Friday that "no student will miss the school year due to coronavirus," and the minister added that the government will wait until the end of April before deciding whether a return to classrooms, "if not at once, at least in a more gradual manner," is feasible.
Yet, the Spanish education minister also referred to students finishing the school year telematically, pointing out that 80% of students in Spain are in touch with their teachers from home, and that the digital gap could be filled by making sure all students have access to a mobile phone: "We have to act by activating educational content via mobile," she said.
On April 1, the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) announced it has canceled all face-to-face classes for the rest of the academic year., with all further activity will be completed online.
The university took the decision as they believe there is a "high chance" that the confinement period will be extended.
University entrance exams delayed
Another issue causing concern is the university entrance exams, which normally begin in early June. The state and regional authorities reached an agreement with the universities to hold the exams between June 22 and July 10, with the second part of the exams taking place from September 10.
On Tuesday March 31, Catalan education authorities revealed that July 7 to July 9 will be the new dates for the rearranged exams.
The "form and content" of the papers will be modified so that no student is disadvantaged due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the health crisis.
As for other end-of-year evaluations, Bargalló has ruled out giving all students a free pass, but said that exams would have to take the pandemic into consideration as it was not possible "to demand the same." The minister also said the government has no wish to extend the school year into July, due to the effect it would have on the next school year.
Evaluations to consider students' personal situation
In a statement on Monday, the education department said that during the end-of-year evaluations, teachers must take into consideration the personal situation of each student regarding the ongoing health crisis.
According to the department, the evaluations for the second term go up to March 12, and those made after that point should consider the difficulties each student faces while confined to home, with more instructions to follow after April 13.
The statement also warns teachers that the "virtual" learning provided from home must be free of the pressures to finish courses, and be aimed at offering continuity, while also avoiding repetition and with the aim of making the work motivating.