Coronavirus: Education Minister Chris Hipkins outlines the future of schooling

If the pandemic alert level is lifted soon don't expect kids to be back at school and daycare right away.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says there are huge logistical challenges ahead, with students likely to end up only doing part of their learning at school itself, with a potential reopening date of April 29.

"When we move from level 4 to level 3 doesn't mean suddenly everything goes back to normal," Hipkins told TVNZ's Q+A on Sunday morning.

"Even if we've got schools and early learning services starting to open, they won't necessarily be fully open or open for everybody at that point."

Schools and early childhood education centres were shut in late March as the country went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide.

While the disease is usually mild in children and rarely fatal, the same can't be said for the teaching workforce, which skews older. The older you are, the more likely you are to fall seriously ill or die if you catch the virus.

"We know that while young people are not as affected by COVID-19 as others, they can be transmitters of it to others. So we've got to make sure we've got a really good understanding of all the risks involved in reopening schools and early learning services, before we go down that road," said Hipkins.

"We're not necessarily going to have the entirety of the teaching workforce available on day one when schools are reopened for face-to-face teaching, but some of those teachers can be supporting distance learning... It's a huge logistical challenge."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's even possible different age groups go back to school at different times, depending on the level of risk. Hopkins said any decisions would be based on public health expert advice.

"Social distancing is really challenging in a school environment, even more so in an early childhood environment. You can't say to kids, 'Can you all sit two metres apart?' That's just not the way young kids work. Those are all the sorts of risks we've got to work through...

"When the public health advisors say 'we think it's safe for this group of students' or 'this number of students' to go back... we will act on that as quickly as we can."

Timetables would likely be different, he explained, with students perhaps doing some learning remotely. The Government is launching an educational channel fronted by veteran children's entertainer Suzy Cato on April 15, and has started shipping computers and rolling out internet to families who don't already have them, so they can learn from home. 

Children of essential workers are a priority for returning to school, making it easier for their parents to do their jobs.

"It may be, in the first instance, [teachers] are able to come back into their classrooms and continue to deliver remote learning from that school environment, where the broadband connections are better and they have access to more resources," said Hipkins.

"But my message to parents is, we do need to prepare for all sorts of different scenarios, and one of those scenarios. And one of those scenarios is that a significant number of young people may be at home for longer, even after level 4 has finished."