Reopening Schools During a Pandemic: 5 Insights from Around the World

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the traditional educational setup in many countries. Because of the rapid spread of the disease, students of all ages were compelled to continue their education by studying under new and unfamiliar conditions. Many countries launched distance and home-based learning programs to minimize the risk of infection among their student population and staff members. In fact, UNICEF estimates that 1 in every 7 student missed more than three-quarters of the in-school classes between March 2020 and February 2021 and that the early months of the pandemic left more than 1.6 billion students out of school.

Reopening Schools During a Pandemic: 5 Insights from Around the World
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The good news is that there are countries that were able to successfully control the spread of the virus. While many of these places still need to play the situation by ear, they managed to reopen their schools and provide their students with in-classroom learning experiences once it was deemed safe to do so. Here are some of the countries that have succeeded in doing just that and the strategies they used to safely reopen their schools even while the rest of the world is still dealing with the pandemic.


In Singapore, students who go to Stamford American International School Singapore were able to experience a mix of in-school and remote learning in the past year, much like in many other schools in the city-state. Educational institutions including international school throughout the country remained open until April 2021, when the cases of COVID-19 in Singapore spiked—though it’s worth noting that these infections largely happened outside the school setting.

Once the country was able to control the spread of the virus again, schools started to reopen with additional measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety. Existing facilities, like spacious classrooms and common areas, made it possible for public and private academic institutions to hold indoor classes while maintaining the recommended distance of 3 to 6 feet between each person. Some schools have even implemented set pathways and staggered recess and dismissal times for each class to minimize crowding and close contact with other student groups.

Indeed, the government has also been quite proactive in ensuring that the disease will not spread through schools. Should a student or staff member come in contact with a confirmed case, they are legally required to undergo quarantine and the school’s facilities will be deep cleaned. 


Norway has prioritized the reopening of schools for preschoolers and early elementary students in an effort to slowly open up society. The country is using a color-coded safety indicator to determine if it’s safe to reopen schools in particular locations. Upon arriving at the school, students undergo temperature and symptom checks, and they are also encouraged to conduct most of their classes outdoors. Classes that need to be conducted indoors are made to accept only a limited number of students to maintain physical distancing. Should a student or staff member fall ill, they are to quarantine themselves at home until they no longer have symptoms of the disease.


Taiwan was able to keep the number of COVID-19 cases low from the get-go, so schools in the country were not required to completely close their doors. Temporary closures, however, were done when the situation called for it. In addition to doing temperature and symptom checks, schools in Taiwan were instructed to break up group seating arrangements or put dividers between each student. Students are to remain in their respective classrooms and their teachers are the ones to move between classes, a strategy that helped reduce close interaction between different student groups. 

In case one student in a class comes down with COVID-19, the class members will be required to quarantine for 14 days. If there are 2 or more confirmed cases, however, the school itself will have to close its doors for the next 2 weeks.


Like its neighbor Norway, Denmark has decided to open schools for students younger than 12 years old following a decline in cases and hospitalizations. In part, this move is spurred by the belief that children are at lower risk from the virus and that person-to-person interactions are crucial to their development, at least when compared to older students. Temperature and symptom checks are done upon the students’ arrival, and those feeling under the weather are required to stay home for 48 hours. The number of student distribution per class has also been reduced to make sure that everyone can follow physical distancing measures even when indoors.


Schools in China have been gradually reopening their doors since March 2020. To reduce safety risks, the average number of students per class in the country was brought down from 50 to 30, and group seating arrangements were replaced by individual chairs. Anyone who gets sick is required to stay at home until they no longer have symptoms. At the same time, common safety procedures such as temperature and symptom checks and the use of chair dividers are also followed in Chinese schools.

A year after the start of the lockdowns, 15% of the schools in East Asia and the Pacific, 22% of the schools in South Asia, and 58% of the schools in Latin America and the Caribbean remain closed. Schools in these areas that are planning on opening their doors soon can try to emulate the policies set by educational institutions in the model countries discussed above. This way, they can provide their students with effective in-person learning environments without compromising the health and safety of their academic community.

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