Let the school year’s first bell ring, but not the alarm bells of the COVID-19 epidemic. Let the schools open without being forced to shut down again. Let us not allow school classrooms to be replaced by children’s rooms with computers for tele-education.

The challenge for schools, which opened yesterday nationwide, is not only about education.

Students do not only learn history, maths, and language in schools. They become members of a community. Learning is the core of the educational process, but it is not the only element.

In the school environment a student acquires skills that go beyond book learning. They acquire a broader knowledge of life. That knowledge is invaluable both for students who do and do not get high grades on their report cards, both for more and less talented students, both for smarter and less smart pupils.

Schools are for everyone.

This basic principle was tested more than ever during the pandemic lockdowns all around the world.

In many countries, the educational systems proved to be unequal, and not only did these inequalities expand, but they also harmed once again students from less privileged families.

The chasm widened so rapidly and suddenly that it reminded us that a school that offers equal opportunities will always be a difficult target to meet even under normal conditions and a deception in emergency circumstances.

Certainly, regaining a certain degree of normalcy will not remedy any inequalities. It will take time to regain lost ground and every minute is valuable and must be utilised.

In that sense, school is a perpetual challenge. The challenge for today’s students is to acquire many different skills.

The challenge for tomorrow’s citizens will be the climate crisis with which they will be confronted.

Where else but in school can they prepare to wage this battle? How can they fight if they do not receive the initial, basic tools in school?

That is why schools must remain open. That is why vaccination is not a personal affair, a choice that it is solely up to the individual to make. It is an act linked directly with the community.

Denial and fear, even if instinctive, lead only to new fears and denials.

Hesitation does not only hide the problem behind a screen. It is unbefitting and out of sync with all that is happening around us and with the conditions shaped by the current emergency circumstances.

A school that is protected by vaccinated students is not a utopian school. It is a school that fends off dystopia.

It is a school where school bells ring, and not alarm bells.

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