The New Reality: What can Canada learn from Denmark’s return to class?

This is the seventh in a series of stories looking at the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Maritimes. You can find the full series here.

Its a bright and sunny morning in Aarhus, Denmark, and the Silverstein twins are headed back to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Danish government closed schools for a month when the pandemic first hit but Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen classrooms.

“We were scared, really anxious,” said Tamara Silverstein, the twins’ parent.

Denmark has a population of nearly six million people, and so far there have been 563 deaths related to the coronavirus.

When restrictions were lifted, daycares and elementary schools opened first.

“The first day they came back they said it was the best day of their lives,” said Silverstein.

READ MORE: Can we really keep kids distant in school amid COVID-19? It won’t be easy, experts say

The Silversteins’ lives going back to a new normal was part of Denmark’s emergency education plan. Strict guidelines meant students and teachers had to stay two metres apart and parents were not allowed on school property.

Students now eat lunch at their desks and have a bubble of four or five friends they can play with outside. The bubbles do not change.

“They had set up sinks there and they could wash their hands in the schoolyard before they go inside,” said Silverstein.

Silverstein says the curriculum is now more creative and not at the level it was before COVID-19.

2:09Department of education releases COVID-19 guidelines for in-person graduation celebrations

Department of education releases COVID-19 guidelines for in-person graduation celebrations

Typical classes of 24 students were broken up into smaller groups and each classroom now has two teachers.

“I don’t think we really understood how much they needed to be back in the school environment and amongst kids their own age until they went back and we could see the difference,” said Silverstein.

In Halifax, father of two Bob Mills and his daughters are ready to begin another day of self-directed home learning.

READ MORE: Pandemic could change Nova Scotia’s school food programs

Mills thinks Canada can learn a thing or two from the Danes.

“What’s the plan for our public schools? Such that our kids aren’t thrown into turmoil come the start of the year?” said Mills.

Mills says at this point in the pandemic, the distribution of online learning material isn’t going to cut it.

“For me, it’s unacceptable,” he said.

2:18Students, parents left wondering what September will bring

Students, parents left wondering what September will bring

Mills wants interactive instruction led by teachers that mirrors the classroom curriculum, or for schools to reopen.

“I just want our kids to have the same opportunity, and for it to be on par with the best in the world because I don’t see why it shouldn’t be,” said Mills.

Dr. David Wagner, a professor of education at the University of New Brunswick, says some vital information may not transfer in virtual environments.

“In certain subjects like math, it is very difficult online because gesture is so important, and the way you write things,” he said.

READ MORE: Dalhousie international students call for reduced tuition after coronavirus moves classes online

Wagner warns Canadians may not have the same results as Denmark and that in the midst of a global pandemic, patience is a virtue.

“We look at a country where they open the schools and there was no problem, that doesn’t mean it was a good decision. We have to be careful about how we judge the results of small pockets,” Wagner said.

9:56Dominic Cardy discusses future of education in New Brunswick

Dominic Cardy discusses future of education in New Brunswick

Mills said he’s just hopeful that the government is planning for the worst and “hoping for the best.”

Meanwhile, in Denmark, class is in session.

“The whole world is going through this. Don’t be afraid to move forward in this crazy time,” said Silverstein.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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