How is Norway’s school and kindergarten shutdown going?

How is Norway's school and kindergarten shutdown going?
Students being taught through Microsoft's Teams app. Photo. Oslo Commerce School
On Thursday, Norway said it would close schools and kindergartens, leaving only a skeleton service for children of socially critical workers. The Local spoke to a school, a pre-school teacher, and a kindergarten manager about how it's working.
Eva, who works at a kindergarten in Oslo, said that there were still a lot of uncertainties over who is eligible for the places her institution is offering. 
 
“It hasn't been designed properly yet, so we're learning by doing,” she said. “It just came so suddenly. This is a new thing for the world, this thing.” she said. 
 
 
She said she had had five children in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and expected more, perhaps ten to 15, next week. 
 
It wasn't always clear, she said, which parents were entitled. 
 
“The government said 'socially-critical functions', so what is that? Clearly hospitals, nurses, doctors, they're in the clear. But what about the police? What about people who work in kindergartens? Are we critical? So where does it go?”
 
“They've decided that both parents need to have critically important jobs — and this is clear in our instructions, but then again, what if one parent is a doctor and the other parent is off sick?” 
 
 
Robert Ullman speaks at a conference in 2014. Photo: Freddiepromo / Canvas
 
Robert Ullman, General Manager of Kanvas, which operates 12 private kindergartens for Oslo University Hospital, said he had been working late nights and over the weekend trying to manage staff in those that have remained open. 
 
“We have had a crisis team up and running since Thursday, so we meet every day, sometimes physically, sometimes on Skype. There are a lot of ad hoc questions that still have to be answered,” e said.  
 
As the virus gets closer to its peak, he expects to have to open more places for the children of hard-pressed doctors and nurses. 
 
“We are now preparing to ramp up to meet that need, but right now not that many people actually need the hospital for treatment, so we're not in the critical phase.”
 
At the same time, he expects to face staffing issues later on as his own employees fall ill, or go into quarantine.
 
He said that it was important that his staff are constantly aware of the need to reduce the risk of infection. 
 
“There's no point keeping these kindergartens open for medical personnel and then becoming a hub for spreading the virus,” he said. 
 
Eva said her kindergarten was had divided its staff into several teams, with the current team expected to work every day until one of them falls ill. 
 
“If one member of the group, or one of the children, gets infected with the virus, then the whole group has to be in quarantine for two weeks,” she said.  
 
“It's really weird,” she said. “We try to keep calm, and it's just a really weird situation which has come upon us.” 
 
A teacher reading to children at one of Kanvas' kindergartens in Norway. Photo. Kanvas
 
Tone Fairway, Deputy Headmaster of Oslo Commerce School, one of the city's most elite upper secondary schools, said her teachers were trying to continue teaching lessons according to the normal timetable, using apps like Skype, Teams, and Itslearning educational software. 
 
“They are basically trying to teach as they would in class,” she said. “One problem is that it's not that easy to follow the timetable because we have so many accessing the systems that they have broken down from time to time.” 
 
“Also, because all the kindergartens are closed, we have quite a few teachers at home who are looking after children at the same time as trying to teach classes from their home offices.”
 
She said that it would be disappointing for her students, who are expecting to receive some of the highest results in the country, if their entire year group was simply given an exemption for the four spring leaving exams.   
 
Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie on Monday suggested that the country might relax the schools closures to allow the exams to take place, but so far no decision has been made. 
 
But Fairway said the experience so far had not been too bad. 
 
“There's a lot positive which has come out of this,” she added. “We are seeing a lot of commitment from teachers and students. Teachers are learning a lot of new skills and the students are positive. And I think they miss school, which is quite nice for us to know.” 
 
 
 
 

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