State-run schools looking to resume normal hours have been warned by the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) to wait for approval from the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) before going ahead.
Amnart Wichayanuwat, Secretary-General of OBEC, said public schools are still obliged to follow the limited attendance regulations set by the CCSA and the Ministry of Education even though there has been no locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for over two months.
Since the reopening on 1st July 2020, schools with large classrooms have been required to split their classes into two groups to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak. Under the current arrangement, one group of students studies in a classroom for five days in a row, while others learn at home via the internet. After one week, the two groups can switch.
“We understand the situation has improved to the point that many schools want to return to normal,” Mr Wichayanuwat said. “We want that, too, as face-to-face learning is better for students than studying online.
“However, we also have to listen to the CCSA and wait for its green light.”
Mr Wichayanuwat said the OBEC, CCSA and Ministry of Public Health are now discussing the possibility of restoring normal school hours and operations, with strict health safety measures.
“We will decide soon, but right now, I urge all schools to be patient,” he said.
An OBEC letter sent to school executives across the kingdom said the warning comes after the commission found some state-run schools have begun to resume normal hours and operations without authorisation.
According to Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the CCSA, schools and other education providers have so far been free of COVID-19 infections, but there are still concerns to address.
Dr Visanuyothin said the CCSA realised school attendance regulations during the outbreak are flawed because poor students have limited access to adequate computer hardware and software needed for online learning.
He also said hard-up students could not take advantage of the state-run school lunch programme while studying at home.
The regulations, he said, hurt the cognitive development and social interaction skills of those studying from home.
Meanwhile, Thira Woratanarat, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, said the country faces a high risk of a second wave of COVID-19 infections after the government decided to open the border to foreigners.
“We are now facing a higher risk of catching the deadly virus infection at a time when restrictions are being eased,” Dr Woratanarat wrote on Facebook.
“Lessons from abroad show a new local outbreak is usually found two to six weeks after the reopening of borders.”