Sat, 26 Sep 2020

LISBON, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- The new academic year started in Portugal Monday with students of all levels of education returning to the classrooms and new rules on social distancing and health security.

About 1.3 million students will be reunited after six months of class stoppages, but the schools will not be the same as before. Teachers, students and staff alike will have to comply with a set of new rules defined by the Ministry of Education and the Directorate-General for Health (DGS).

The use of face masks will be mandatory for students above fifth grade, and a physical distance of at least one meter will have to be maintained in school buildings, which will be cleaned frequently.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa thanked all the country's teachers and staff for their efforts in preparing the new academic year under such special circumstances and stated that "the school itself does not transmit the virus to anyone."

Speaking on a visit to a school in the city of Santarem, he said that the responsibility for not transmitting the virus rests "with each one of us."

"Precaution means using the mask at school always, disinfect and wash your hands as many times as possible, maintain physical distance and comply with defined circuit rules," he said.

Silvia Fernandes, professor of informatics at the University of Algarve, told Xinhua that she would prefer not to return at this time to holding face-to-face classes. However, she said it was necessary and believed that all security measures will be taken.

According to the professor, there is already a scheme for some classes to be held over the internet, alternating the presence of students on the university campus. And the teaching spaces (rooms, amphitheaters and laboratories) will have their capacity reduced by 50 percent.

"We are all going to wear masks and there will be only one student per table. Our Rector, Paulo Aguas, has already sent guidelines to the units of the University of Algarve, which include the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers and the setting up of an isolation room for when suspicious cases appear," said Fernandes.

Silmara Kalinke, the mother of a student who is in the last year of basic education, said that there was also a decrease in the number of students with the separation of classes during the day.

"Honestly, I am very concerned about the lack of preparation for this return, because just this week, the day before school, there will be a meeting with the parents, in which I believe they should give some guidance," Kalinke told Xinhua.

She admitted that it was good to have her child at home during the worst months of the pandemic, but that the internet classes did not meet the needs and demands due to the lack of knowledge of digital tools.

Silmara's son, Reinaldo Kalinke, said that he enjoyed the experience of staying at home but he already missed going to school.

"The school has already sent information saying the students will be separated by different times during the day, with 100-minute classes and 20-minute breaks outside the school (in the open), and then they return to the classroom," he said.

Portuguese Minister of Education Tiago Brandao Rodrigues said that "today is the first day of the rest of the schools' lives. We know that this school year is different, but we know, above all, that everyone understands the importance (of classroom teaching) for our mental and physical health," he said.

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