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Healthcare and education sectors doing everything necessary to re-start in-school classes

Today’s press conference on the current situation regarding COVID-19 was attended by State Secretary at the Ministry of Health Alenka Forte, Director of the National Education Institute Vinko Logaj, clinical psychologist Mateja Hudoklin, Director of the Counselling Centre for Children, Adolescents and Parents, and Maja Drobnič Radobuljac, Head of the Intensive Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit at the Ljubljana University Psychiatric Clinic.

Among 1,293 PCR tests yesterday, 264 Covid cases were confirmed positive, while 29 positives were confirmed among 1,441 rapid antigen tests. This equates to 20.4% of PCR tests and 2% of RAT. A total of 2,734 tests were performed, of which 293 (10.7%) were positive. 1,173 patients are in hospital for treatment of coronavirus, 192 of whom are in intensive care. 19 patients died on Sunday, 16 in hospitals and 3 in nursing homes.

Mass testing and numerous preventive measures at schools

Rapid antigen testing is being conducted today for employees in the education sector in all regions with more favourable epidemiological situations, which is a major organisational and logistical effort. State Secretary Forte thanked all of the teachers, staff and other school employees who have responded to this stance responsibly, which is important for students to be able to return to school safely.

Rapid testing is one of the key measures for preventing the spread of the coronavirus recommended by both the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and Slovenian professional institutions. The advantage of rapid tests is that we can quickly identify people who are carrying the virus but are otherwise showing no symptoms of the disease, therefore it is important that they go into quarantine so that they do not transmit the virus to others.

Along with rapid testing, it is extremely important to follow all recommendations for preventing the spread of the coronavirus:wash or disinfect your hands regularly

– maintain a distance of 1.5 to 2 metres from others

– appropriate cough hygiene (cover your mouth and nose with a tissue before coughing or sneezing, or cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, discard the tissue immediately into a bin and wash your hands with soap and water)

– do not touch your face (eyes, nose and mouth) with dirty/unwashed hands

– if you are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness (congestion, cough, sore throat, fever, muscle pains, etc.), stay home and limit contacts with others

– wear masks; three-ply surgical masks are recommended, and FFTP masks for those with more frequent contacts

– keep rooms well-ventilated

– clean rooms and surfaces regularly and thoroughly

– use the #OstaniZdrav (Stay healthy!) app

Forte especially asked families whose children will be attending kindergartens and schools to closely adhere to all preventive measures adopted in the community in their own homes as well, particularly in households where there are several generations living together. The risk of spreading infections is higher in households made up of many people from different generations, especially if the members of a shared household include elderly people, who are the most vulnerable population.

Six important highlights of the circular to schools

Logaj presented various key activities that are important to ensuring that the return to in-school classes is as successful as possible, particularly by preventing the overloading of students, successful completion of the academic year and paying attention to various psychosocial factors. He presented six key areas in more detail.

  1. Paying special attention to students who did not have internet access during the time of remote learning, students from vulnerable groups, and those assessed to have been less successful at remote learning. The priority is to prepare individual education plans for these students, or to amend the existing plans.
  2. Providing an introductory period to allow students to adjust to the new school rhythm, which is particularly important for early primary school students. We can e.g. expect initial difficulties due to the changed biorhythms during remote learning. Teachers will be especially attentive to any difficulties, fears or other emotional obstacles that the students encounter. We recommend that they take the time to talk with their students about their experiences with remote learning and how they feel about returning to school.
  3. Additional review of the content covered and skills learned during the remote learning period. Teachers should adjust the planned activities intended for consolidating knowledge depending on the differences identified among students. Feedback on students’ level of knowledge is a prerequisite for the commencement of knowledge testing. This is intended to prevent excessive pressures on the testing procedure.
  4. Adjusting annual preparations for testing and the resulting testing plans. Teachers should decide whether and to what extent it is necessary to change or adjust the annual preparations, so that students will acquire, by the end of the school year, the critical knowledge required to continue their education. Advisers from the National Education Institute have already marked the priority objectives and content in the digital syllabuses available to teachers.
  5. Continuous recording of the objectives that remain insufficiently covered or not taught at all during this school year. At the end of the school year, school staff meetings and final educational conferences will have to draw up a plan of these objectives, and how and when students will be able to make up for them or supplement them in the coming years of their education.
  6. A single assessment period in this school year will allow teachers to seriously weigh the various possible methods of obtaining, through testing and knowledge assessment, the most comprehensive information on the achievement of the content and procedural standards of knowledge critical for a given subject. Therefore it is important that the testing plan (which also includes the testing frequency and methods) includes to a greater extent various testing methods that allow us to assess the achievement of particularly those standards of knowledge that are critical for a given subject.

Return to schools and kindergartens important for identifying difficulties among children and adolescents

Drobnič Radobuljac noted that the currently available data from the three main hospitals and emergency psychiatric services for children and adolescents in Slovenia indicate that on average, the number of children and adolescents seeking help is falling or remaining stable. The official statistical data have not yet been collected. The data regarding a 30% increase in attempted suicides was reported at just one paediatric hospital, and therefore does not represent the data at the national level.

Children and adolescents are seeking less help during the epidemic, and therefore upon their return to school, teachers will be the first to be able to identify their various difficulties. When these difficulties exceed their knowledge or the knowledge of the educational services, they should seek assistance from other services: mental health centres, counselling centres, health centres, and mental health centres for children. Only a minority of children will truly require psychiatric help.

According to Mateja Hudoklin, the Counselling Centre for Children, Adolescents and Parents has assisted 2,400 children and adolescents a year on average over the last few years. There were fewer such cases in 2020. Over the course of 2020, the queue at the centre fell from 420 waiting for treatment in January 2020 to 101 waiting for treatment in January 2021. The epidemic also brought about the significant finding that schools play a significant role in caring for children’s and adolescents’ mental health, as the schools are able to deal with many such cases on their own. Another finding of the experts at the centre is that children who were having difficulties prior to the epidemic are having even more difficulties now. Therefore the return to schools and kindergartens is important for identifying the difficulties that will arise among students upon the return to in-school classes.