Teachers leave Shanghai amid ongoing lockdown — how will this affect int’l students?

china's schools
Shanghai's continuous lockdown has caused many teachers and expats to evacuate the city. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

An increasing number of teachers in Shanghai are opting to leave the city as COVID-19 numbers continue to surge amidst the weeks-long lockdown. The lockdown, which was imposed at the end of March, is impacting China’s schools and economic activity as thousands of expats and Chinese residents are unable to return to work. 

Foreign residents in Shanghai are being evacuated as reports begin to emerge of the city’s dire living conditions. According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), teachers at many of Shanghai’s international schools are resigning or temporarily relocating in rapid numbers. 

“It’s not just in Shanghai; teachers at the best international school in China have left,” said Li Min, a Fudan University graduate. “They sent out a letter saying that while they have more than 100 years of history as an international school, the lockdowns have left them feeling hopeless in just a short period of time.”

RFA added that a letter from an international school in Shanghai, which was addressed to parents, said 28 teachers may leave Shanghai by June 2, 2022, with only 24 expected to return in time for the next academic year. 

In the meantime, the school will be moving to distance learning to better accommodate teachers. “We must create an environment that retains our top teachers, rather than forcing them to resign or to hesitate about their responsibilities,” the letter said.

The impact of a zero-COVID policy on China’s schools

Shanghai residents are restricted to their homes due to the lockdown and are facing food shortages because of this. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

China’s zero-COVID policy is proving detrimental for Shanghai’s residents, with many going hungry due to food shortages. The city, which adopted less restrictive quarantine rules at the beginning of the pandemic, abruptly imposed a lockdown in late March due to a rise in Omicron cases. 

According to CNN, the government initially called it a four-day “temporary pause”, in which they would strive to test the entire population, isolate positive cases, and re-open the city. Because of this, many Shanghai residents had not seen the need to stock up on supplies. 

However, with no end to the lockdown in sight, Shanghai residents are finding it increasingly difficult to find food. Restaurants and other food services remain shut until further notice, and the restrictions on residents’ mobility means that visiting supermarkets is impossible. 

Many expats are rushing to evacuate the country as a result. 

“A large number of teachers [in Shanghai] have [also] resigned, because they can’t guarantee normal food and drink supplies there,” said Min. 

The prospect of food shortages isn’t the only issue plaguing expats in Shanghai. Reports are emerging of limited access to hospitals as cases surge, alongside severe conditions in isolation centres. This is not only worrying teachers at China’s schools, but parents of international students, as well. 

“If you have a child and can’t ensure their safety, if at any moment they can be taken from you and sent to a centre, despite not testing positive, this is a huge problem,” a Frenchman told Le Monde. The father of a young girl at one of China’s schools decided to leave Shanghai immediately with his pregnant wife. 

This follows news of families being separated into different isolation centres, a decision allegedly made to better manage differing virological statuses. However, Le Monde reported the publication of a video at the beginning of April which showed children isolated in a Shanghai hospital lying on a bed with bars, alarming many. 

Students locked down on campus unable to leave China

Reports have emerged of families being separated and students transported to isolation facilities to manage the outbreak. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

RFA also reported that foreign students locked down at Fudan University are being transported to isolation facilities in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and other provinces outside Shanghai. According to a Shanghai resident, these students were taken away due to a lack of space in temporary hospitals. 

As a result, consulates are working to evacuate international students out of Shanghai. The South Korean consulate, for example, has called on Fudan University authorities to release their students still locked down on campus. 

“The Korean consulate wrote to Fudan University because the school wasn’t cooperating … and refused to allow them to leave,” the consulate said in a letter. “Last week, half of the international students in China were evacuated by plane. There are still [South] Korean students in various schools.”

The letter described students as “extremely panicked and helpless”.