China vs the U.S.: They’re in school normally, why aren’t we?

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Back-to-school season looked a little different this year compared to others. In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced certain changes to be made to the standard school day. Although many lower and high school districts have adopted additional safety measures by enforcing mask-wearing, hygiene and social distancing mandates, creating alternating schedules for students and utilizing contract tracing, others have chosen to go completely remote

But in China, as is the case with many other nations, schools are not experiencing the same changes. Over 195 million students in China’s public school system are back to their normal routine. Students are back to in-person learning without social distancing and without masks. China’s population is over four times larger than that of the  United States, so what measures did they take to ensure that everyone was back to normal as soon as possible? 

For starters, China has placed military battalions in its public schools to supervise all of those who make possible the continued safe learning environments the country has fostered. These troops ensure every teacher is following the correct medical protocols and every student is doing their part as well. Teachers often double as healthcare workers, taking student’s temperatures and isolating sick students. On top of the constant watch from both the military and the teaching staff, these schools also have medical staff performing temperature checks at every entrance. The battalions also inspect classrooms throughout the day and have certain technologies in place that allow them to watch over the students and staff and restrict their actions, all while making sure that everyone is holding an “anti-epidemic spirit” — a reminder of the thorough job the  Chinese government is doing in terms of virus control. 

College campuses in China have taken extreme measures of their own. College students are advised not to leave campus under any circumstance and are even told not to speak in restaurants and public transportation in order to stop the spread. Many students feel strongly about these measures, saying they are a bit excessive. 

Though these tactics may have been effective in China, the United States could never enforce such strong mandates on its population due how differently our government is structured. China is a communist country, meaning its government has strict control over what its  people say and do. The measures taken by China were incredibly invasive and extreme, from lockdowns to tracking technologies put in place by the government. However invasive, these tactics did work, and Chinese students are back to an almost normal school day. 

That being said, there are some actions China took in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that the United States could have also implemented. Placing more healthcare professionals in schools and increasing teacher awareness on how to watch for the spread are just two examples of universal measures that can help prevent the spread of coronavirus in schools in any country. But it is important to note that while creating an increased awareness of safety measures with teaching staff may be an effective and valuable measure to facilitate, it is also important to consider that teachers are in no way medical professionals and should not be expected to act as such. Many teachers in China have expressed their dismay with being expected to review protocols constantly and treat students who fall ill in class. However, making sure every teacher can spot symptoms and know how to properly isolate a child who may be sick is a necessary measure to take for schools to safely reopen. In my opinion, the introduction of military battalions in schools is a tad extreme and would in no way fly in American society, as we heavily value freedom and privacy, which is not a bad thing. Many Chinese citizens disagreed with the actions of the government and also sought out less intrusive precautions. 

Yes, China’s privacy invading tactics did work, but on an ethics stand point were they right? Unfortunately, there is no right answer. America took effective, but less invasive measures, showing us that perhaps strict government is the only way to stop this virus, but strict government comes with a cost.