As schools begin to open in China, measures are being taken to make sure students maintain social distancing at all times. A primary school in Hangzhou in the east of the country took inspiration from the headgear worn by officials in the Song dynasty, which ruled China between 960 and 1279, to reinforce lessons on social distancing.
The ancient Chinese hat has joined face masks and hand sanitisers as one of the weapons in the fight against Covid-19. Pupils at the school wore their own handmade versions of the hats, which have long extensions, or wings, to keep them at least a metre (3ft) apart when they returned to school.
One legend says that the first Song emperor ordered his ministers to wear hats with two long wings on the sides so that they could not chitchat in court assemblies without being overheard, according to Tsui Lik-hang, a historian at City University of Hong Kong.
The World Health Organisation recommends that people stay at least a metre apart to curb the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
An early childhood education specialist said the hats were a good way to explain the concept of social distancing to young children, who find it difficult to understand abstract concepts.
"As children can see and feel these hats, and when the ‘wings’ hit one another, they may be more able to understand the expectations and remember to keep their physical distance,” said Ian Lam Chun-bun, associate head of the department of early childhood education at The Education University of Hong Kong.
Using pictures of footprints to indicate the right distance to keep when queuing, standing, and even talking to schoolmates was also helpful, said Lam, who recommended visual aids and aids that stimulate other senses, such as hearing and touch.
“We can use sharp colours or special textures, like tactile paving,” he added.