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It is possible for primary and secondary schools to reopen

The speakers at the press conference on the current situation in relation to the COVID-19 epidemic were the Director of the National Education Institute, Vinko Logaj and the head of the Communicable Disease Centre of the National Institute of Public Health, Mario Fafangel

Head of the Communicable Disease Centre of the National Institute of Public Health, Mario Fafangel

Head of the Communicable Disease Centre of the National Institute of Public Health, Mario Fafangel | Author Daniel Novakovič, STA

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Director Logaj announced that the National Education Institute had launched an extensive research into remote education practised since March 2020. The research will focus on how teachers experienced educational leadership and interactive cooperation, how head teachers conducted educational leadership, and how pupils and students responded to remote education. The research participants will thus provide an analysis from their respective standpoints while taking into consideration demographics, school size and education programmes. The first results will be delivered at the end of June.

Mr Logaj went on to stress that it would be useful if pupils and students were to return to school before the end of this school year, as only a traditional classroom setting can suffice to fulfil all our education objectives, i.e. the development of literacy, general knowledge, talent, skills, creativity, critical thinking and the acquisition of quality general education, coupled with balanced physical, mental and personal development. Furthermore, we should identify any gaps in knowledge or shortcomings resulting from remote education. It is important for pupils and students that they can again have social contacts, as virtual interaction cannot be a substitute for live and direct communication.

Mr Logaj also highlighted an interesting statistic: a total of 260,000 pupils and students attending school for 15 days in June would generate 3.9 million social contacts, whereas those already back in schools will have only 1.65 million contacts over the same period of time. The fact that that pupils and students are grouped into classes facilitates contact identification. Schools, of course, also register their presence or absence. Together with the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Public Health, the National Education Institute is looking for the best solutions to enable pupils and students to finish this school year among their classmates.

Around 260,000 pupils and students are enrolled in primary and secondary schools this school year. Today pupils in their final year of primary education returned to their schools, which means that nearly half of the primary and secondary school population is back in the classroom, the rest continuing learning at home. Out of 87,000 children enrolled in kindergartens in the 2019/2020 school year, 56% returned to their kindergartens a week ago. However, 38,000 children are still being looked after by their parents or grandparents.

Hand hygiene, coughing etiquette and physical distancing important for controlling the spread of virus

Head of the Communicable Disease Centre at the National Institute of Public Health Mario Fafangel presented data showing that Slovenia has been successful in controlling the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The global situation is not so favourable, however, and the epidemic is not abating. In Europe, things are improving, but some countries are still dealing with a difficult situation. Mr Fafangel therefore believes there is a real possibility of the virus being reintroduced to Slovenia from other countries. He said that there were eight active cases of COVID-19 in Slovenia at the moment. These are the cases that are epidemiologically active and thus relevant in terms of spreading the disease.

Mr Fafangel also said that testing is still important. In addition to the 14-day cumulative incidence per 100,000 population, it is the main indicator the National Institute of Public Health uses in making its weekly estimates of the epidemiological status in neighbouring countries. The most recent estimate was made last week, and the Institute compiled a list of countries where it considers the epidemiological status to be favourable. These countries are: Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Physical distancing is crucial

Physical distancing remains crucial. Which does not mean social distancing, pointed out Mr Fafangel, as in these times of crisis we want to be connected as much as possible. A distance of one and a half metres to two metres in practically every aspect of our life is something we must continue to respect and is essential in order for us to be able to ease the measures.

Hand hygiene, coughing etiquette, disinfection and refraining from touching our faces as much as possible – these are instructions we must follow if we want to become active again as a society.

Mr Fafangel also pointed out that masks are of secondary importance compared to distancing. Distance is the most important factor. According to WHO recommendations, masks are particularly important if we are ill and must urgently go out or if we are taking care of an ill person. They are also an important aid when we cannot ensure or maintain physical distancing.

For the health system, testing, isolation and determining contacts remain the three most important pillars of controlling the situation.

"If we do our part and if everybody respects distancing and hygiene requirements, the measures can be eased even if an effective treatment or vaccine is not yet available," stressed Mr Fafangel at the end of the conference.