Schools and the Great COVID Conundrum 

Governments Around the World Struggle with the Education Question

Summer 2020 has not been up to many people’s plans. The end of the “first coronavirus wave” has encouraged many governments to end or ease lockdowns, and as a result many people around the world have been allowed to go to beaches, attend family gatherings and even go on holiday abroad. As August is passing by at a breakneck pace, governments and parents now have a huge question on their hands, should children be sent back to school come September? Back in February, March and April, when many governments around the world were starting to implement lockdown measures, the first step that was often taken was closing down schools. These decisions were deemed somewhat controversial at the time (especially in the United Kingdom), as most early evidence indicated that children are by in large less susceptible to the virus, and now that we know more about the nature of COVID-19 it would seem that such observations were true. Nevertheless, health officials had argued that children tend to be “super spreaders” of such viral diseases, and as a result the wisest course of action was to close down schools and have children stay indoors as much as possible. The present scientific evidence shows that although children aren’t immune for the coronavirus, they tend to display much milder and non-lethal symptoms than adults who contract the virus. Furthermore, the infection rate among children has shown to be low as less than 2 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Italy, China and the US have been in under 18 year olds. As a result, most governments are adamant that schools will and should reopen come autumn. Nevertheless, the debate over whether or not schools should reopen has emerged once again, but this time those calling for schools to remain closed have become few and far between. 
It has been argued that reopening schools will eventually “reconnect networks” and would in some way or another lead to spikes in infection rates. For example, if many parents congregate at school gates while sending or collecting their children to and from school, then they could potentially come into contact with someone from outside their household or even worse someone with COVID-19. Another similar argument is that while children are largely less prone to getting a serious case of COVID-19, they could potentially infect adults who are more susceptible to the virus. Finally, some have stated that children, especially younger ones, are less likely to adhere to social distancing guidelines, thus sending them back to schools might put them in harm’s way. The first problem of parents from different households congregating can be resolved through simple social distancing measures, and wearing masks. Schools with spacious car parks could also be advantageous as parents could simply wait for their children in their cars without coming into contact with other parents. The second problem has no adequate solution since most scientists are still uncertain of how frequent child to adult COVID-19 transmission is. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), symptomatic children can spread the virus in similar quantities to adults, and can infect others in a similar way. However, it is currently unknown how infectious asymptomatic children are. Since a large number of children who get infected with the virus are asymptomatic, it can be harder to detect outbreaks in schools. Nevertheless, since the frequency of infection of children is shown to be lower than the frequency of infection among adults, then it could be argued that they do not need to adhere to social distancing measures while at school. Teachers on the other hand might need more protection.

A teacher interacts with students in a classroom at a United Nations-run school as a new school year begins as Palestinians ease the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, at the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. (Getty)

As children have shown to be less susceptible to the virus, many governments are now keen on reopening schools in the autumn. Moreover, many parents also want schools to reopen due to some of the inefficiencies associated with home schooling and parents of younger children are also fearing that their children aren’t getting the social interaction which is crucial at that age. The coronavirus has also exposed some of the discrepancies between private schooling and public schooling, as many teachers of the latter type of schools found it difficult to manage large class sizes, which dwarf those of private schools. Some public school families also lacked the tools for adequate long distance learning, such as fast Internet or up to date devices. This problem was much worse in developing states, as news reports from Lebanon stated that many students in public schools did not have good Internet that was needed for video classes. Finally, there is the question of home management and logistics, as the need for open schools will grow now that many offices are opening and many non-essential workers are going back to work. As such, if schools aren’t reopening and parents are asked to go back to their offices, there will be a new hassle of finding someone to take care of children during work hours. 
Overall, the question of whether or not to reopen schools is a difficult one, but thus far governments want to press on with the new academic year, while scientists are divided over the decision. Furthermore, if spikes in cases occur in the autumn then it would be difficult to pinpoint schools as the cause due to how hard it is to detect COVID-19 in largely asymptomatic children and the fact that more and more restrictions are being eased everyday, thus a spike can easily be blamed on the higher number of people going outside.