We are a month into the fall 2020 semester, so I thought I’d give a little update on what the teaching situation is like. Masks? Alternate day in-class attendance? Social distancing on campus and a mix of classroom and online learning?
Well….no. None of that. If you were beamed to China right now from outer space you wouldn’t know the earth is experiencing a pandemic right now because well, things look normal where I am. Here are a few pictures from the school website from the first day of classes:
Pretty normal, eh? They’re not fake pictures, it’s just the way it is. (The picture at the top of my post is one I took on the first day back. No social distancing and very few masks.)
Last month China went 20-something days without a single community transmitted case of Covid. The only new cases were from people flying into China from other countries, but when you take any international flight to China you not only need a Covid test the 2 days before your flight, but you are brought straight from the airport (or border crossing) in a special bus to special hotels where you quarantine, under supervision, for two weeks with a few tests.
Xiamen city has a fourteen days quarantine in the supervised hotels before you are allowed home and there is a chance my school might tack on an extra week of quarantine in your apartment. We just had a new teacher arrive from another part of China and the school insisted he get a Covid test his first day here, after they insisted he get one a few days before he arrived, so clearly my school is being extra cautious.
So people with Covid are caught before they actually have contact with anyone in the community, which is why things in the country are now looking so normal. Kids at my school don’t have to wear masks in class (though some choose to do so) and neither do teachers. We don’t split the classes into smaller groups, distance the seating, or have plexiglass dividers. And we don’t do online teaching. I just have normal, in person class exactly like it was one year ago.
That’s not to say everything is back to normal. For starters there are still many teachers outside of the country, and I don’t just mean foreigners. China has restricted the flights back to the country, which means they are scarce and expensive. And the ones they do have tend to be cancelled unexpectedly, so coming back is still a problem. Many Chinese got caught outside the country and I heard there are a bunch of Chinese teachers here that can’t make it back so they are still teaching remotely. About half the foreign teachers at my school are also still stuck outside the country, though last week it was announced they can finally come back. (If they an find a flight, get a Covid test 2 days before the flight and do two weeks quarantine. So best case scenario they can be back in about a month, but most likely they’ll be back by the end of the year.)
My school also set some restrictions for students, though they seem more like lip service then doing any actual good. To leave campus they now need permission from their head teacher. They have an app they need to fill out explaining where and when they want to leave and when they will come back. My students said it’s pretty easy, the teacher basically approves all requests, even if it is just “shopping.” One student of mine got permission to leave campus at 3:30 am the other day to watch the sunrise. He seriously legit watched the sunrise. Are my kids little poetic souls or what?!
To enter school you have to swipe your school card at the gate and get a green check mark before you can enter, but if they don’t have permission or arrive late, they get a red X and supposidly the guards won’t let them in without some paperwork and calls to head teachers. I don’t know what the punishment is for students that leave without permission, or if they come back after their allotted time (my students are super goody-two shoes that would never disobey the rules–seriously) but I’m guessing just a slap on the wrist or a demerit or something. My school also only has two of the four main gates open at the moment, so both gates are quite busy.
Teachers don’t have any restrictions, we just need the temperature check like everyone when we enter the gate. Though the school has asked us to stay in the province and we need to notify them if we plan on traveling further away. Then supposedly we will need to have a Covid test done when we come back but I haven’t done it myself yet.
The classrooms haven’t changed at all, no temperature checks, no sanitizing, no partitions or chairs spread out with distance. Everything is the same as before, even, sigh, the super crappy outdated computers. I’ve heard that the school bathrooms now have soap (they didn’t before) but I am not
crazy brave stupid enough to use the student bathrooms so I haven’t seen it for myself.
There is soap outside the school cafeterias now, and students do often use it before walking in to get lunch, but it’s not monitored. And sometimes there is a lunch lady by the door checking temperatures before you go in, but the cafeterias are the same, serving thousands of kids at lunch time. They have some cardboard partition you can put between tables, but they are moveable, and only about a third for the amount of tables they are, so they seem more like privacy shields than anything else.
So how do I feel about it all? Am I scared to be teaching and seeing so many students face-to-face with no mask or protection? Do I trust that the city is as safe as they tell me? Do I think in class teaching is dangerous?
I feel fine. I’m not nervous nor am I scared. They say normal colds and flu’s have gone down because of all the mask wearing a few months ago, and I see that reflected in my classroom. Usually there are always a handful of kids in each class coughing or sneezing. Now? Almost zero. And if they do they wear a mask and never take it off in class. (Although many students did that before the pandemic as well. Mask wearing isn’t so stigmatized here as it is in the west, and it was a way to be polite if you were sick and didn’t want to spread it to people around you.)
I still go to the hospital regularly and I see how serious they treat people with a cough, fever or other Covid symptoms. And patients checking in still need a covid test before they are allowed into the inpatient ward, as do their friends who accompany them. There aren’t lines at the fever clinic or piles of bodies being quietly disposed of at the hospital so I don’t feel like anything nefarious is going on.
I know many Americans will think I’m a shill for the government, or hopelessly naive (sigh…) but let me again reiterate how china deals with every single Covid case. Recently a dock worker got sick, they think, from handling frozen imported product. Within days, literally days, of his diagnosis they had tested over 4,000 people, quarantined (under lock and supervision) a few hundred people he had been around and tested thousands of products to find the source since apparently the virus can survive longer on frozen product. So they take every single case here extremely serious and I’m not worried about false information of hiding cases, and no, I’m not being paid by the government to write this. I know some people still won’t believe me, but whatevs. I’m used to it now…
We also need to wear masks on all public transportation and I’d say maybe 10% of people on the streets are wearing masks of their own choosing, with maybe 25% wearing them in malls and stores. It’s still a must-have accessory you carry on you at all times because you never know when you’ll need it. And we don’t whine about it, because we know the science, which is very, very clear, and we we know masks are a big reason the world’s most populated country got the virus under control so quickly. So were not bickering about wearing masks here even though it seems unnecessary at times.
So that’s the update here, sorry it’s not more salacious or intriguing. Basically it is back to business not just in the classroom but outside as well. We just had a week long holiday in which it was estimated 600 million people traveled. It was the first major holiday since recovery from the outbreak, and the government is constantly telling people there will likely be a second wave in winter, so people wanted to get out and travel while they had the chance. My school cut the holiday in half, to just 4 days, to prevent the students from traveling much, but thanks to my light schedule I had almost the full time off and was part of the 600 million who did a little adventuring (blog post to come soon).
Also, just for the record I’m only talking about my university and the things I’ve seen with my own eyes. There is some difference with other uni’s and they way they handle it, so some details might not be exactly the same everywhere. But I’ve chatted with a bunch of foreign uni teachers from all over and we all have pretty similar stories. Just a little disclaimer. I also wrote this in the middle of Sept 2020 and we know the situation is volatile and could change quickly. If anything dramatic happens I’ll be sure to write an update and let you know.