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Schools back to mask-free normal

Ljubljana, 1 September - After three years of Covid-19 restrictions, Slovenian schools are switching back to a pre-pandemic normal as a new school year starts on Thursday for almost 195,000 primary and 79,000 secondary school students.

Dobrepolje
Kids going back to school.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA
File photo

However, some Covid measures will remain in force, including regular airing of indoor spaces and self-testing at home by students who have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person.

Free self-test kits for students are available at pharmacies with the funds for ten kits per student made available from the national budget.

The schools are happy with the recommendations put forward by the Covid-19 task force with the National Institute of Public Health, which also include the recommendation that students showing symptoms of being sick should stay at home.

Joining headteachers for their annual pre-term meeting, Prime Minister Robert Golob and Education Minister Igor Papič promised a conventional, restrictions-free school year.

"We're starting the school year calmly, in classrooms, without masks as we were used to before [...] The way we start this school year, is how we end it in June," said the minister.

"The government's plan for this winter is that we stay an open society even though Covid-19 lives with us and we live with it," Prime Minister Golob said.

The 194,562 primary pupils starting school today include 20,797 six-year-olds for whom it will be the first ever day at school. Their parents get a paid day off to accompany them to school.

One change this year is the winter school holidays, which have been moved forward from late February to late January and early February not to coincide with the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Planica.

Students from eastern parts of Slovenia will have their winter holidays from 30 January to 3 February 2023 and students from the west, including Ljubljana, from 6 to 10 February, plus 13 February to make up for the 8 February Culture Day, which is work free.

The autumn holidays will be late this year, running from 31 October to 4 November.

The Education Ministry is also planning to reform educational programmes and update syllabuses, and make the teaching profession more attractive as schools are grappling with staff shortages.

The teachers' union SVIZ said yesterday that officially Slovenia is short of 1,000 teachers, but the actual shortages are much higher still.

Action is needed or else the problem will get only worse with OECD data showing Slovenia has one of the oldest teaching populations in Europe, SVIZ secretary-general Branimir Štrukelj warned.

He said more than a third of the teachers are over 50 years old, which compares to 20% Europe-wide.

The ministry has promised paid internships and scholarships to deal with the situation as well as to tackle pay and promotions for teaching and technical staff.

In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, the ministry has also put forward a bill to keep the cost of school meals and student dorms for parents flat by subsidising the difference in cost for the provider.

School supplies make quite a financial burden for families; data from publisher Mladinska Knjiga puts the cost for year-one pupils at EUR 60, excluding the school bag, and that for year-nine students at EUR 150; at some schools they can reach up to EUR 250 per student.

Charities help parents who cannot afford the cost. The Catholic Caritas and the Slovenian Red Cross have said they have bought notebooks and workbooks for more than 11,000 children.

ep/eho/eho
© STA, 2022