Mohsen Haji-Mirzai, Iran's Minister of Education, said on Monday that students will start school in all areas around the nation except for those designated as "red zones" as recently as Saturday. Currently, 12 out of 31 provinces of the country are considered COVID-19 hotspots and categorized as red zones.
In a press conference, Haji-Mirzai also pointed out that only 35 percent of schools have enough space to observe social distancing and hold regular classes. To keep up with social distancing requirements, students in remaining schools may have to attend at different hours or even alternative days if there is not enough space in the classrooms. Schools have been closed in Iran since late February.
Haji-Mirzai also announced that state-run television channels will begin broadcasting online teaching programs simultaneously.
More than 3 million students, according to a deputy minister, were not able to access Iran's online resources created for remote learning during the first peak of the epidemic in early spring, due to not having access to a smartphone.
According to Haji-Mirzai, an upgraded version of the interactive application will be launched on Thursday, two days before the official start of the school year. The app, called SHAD, was not accessible in some areas of the country due to network issues, and many families could not afford the cost of an internet connection. The ministry is trying to reduce the cost or even make it free for students, he said, but admitted that the tool will still be unavailable to many students.
Iran has been experiencing a second wave of the epidemic since early June, and a record high daily death toll of 229 was registered on July 21, with numbers since dropping almost 50 percent. According to the latest official announcement on Monday, with 109 more deaths over the past 24 hours, Iran's total COVID-19 death toll has risen to 21,571. The total number of cases since the coronavirus outbreak began in Qom in late February has reached 375,212, according to the Health Ministry.
Health officials have also been warning of a third wave of the epidemic that could hit in the fall, which may be attributed to massive religious ceremonies that will continue over the next month. While thousands of Iranians have participated in the ceremonies so far, Health Minister Said Namaki said on Monday that religious groups have so far been very observant of social distancing and other health protocols.