Covid-19 hits for the second time in less than a year. And it does so with special force in Europe and Spain. New measures to avoid contagions are put in place and the shadow of a new home confinement flies. In the midst of this situation a question arises: Will the schools close?
There is no clear position on the advisability of doing so, neither on the part of professors, nor of epidemiologists; even less among families, overwhelmed by uncertainty due to the disparity of criteria.
According to a UNESCO report , the virus was the largest school disruption in history: 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries around the world (94% of the world’s student population and 99% in the most deprived countries) .
This interruption has educational consequences (absence of teaching), personal (lack of socialization) and family (inability to attend school to children in many families).
Infrastructure for learning at home
To develop home teaching, sufficient digital infrastructure is needed, adequate teacher training for virtual teaching and a family network with a minimum of training and dedication possibilities. All these circumstances do not always exist. But throughout the schooling period of a child (10 or 12 years minimum), and according to the paradigm of lifelong learning , recovery from a limited school absence in time could be recovered later.
The lack of contact with equals will have consequences that it would be impossible to determine without a follow-up to those who have suffered it. But it is clear that establishing social relationships at an early age is crucial for balanced emotional and psychological development. That is why schooling begins as soon as possible.
The closure of schools requires permanent and intense attention on the part of families towards their children in school and a minimum of training to help them in their learning. The necessary care is incompatible in the case of working parents, even if it is done with the telework formula. The confinement of the first wave made this clear. And not all families have adequate training to support all school contents.
The Latin American context
Infections among children have a lower incidence than in adults and the severity with which the disease occurs at an early age is usually less dramatic.
So should the schools be closed? Based on these reflections, it seems not. But many countries have, especially in the context of Latin America. And not without consequences.
In Argentina , with one of the longest and most severe social confinements on the planet, the course begins in March and in that month of 2020 the president announced the closure of all schools (centrally despite the country’s federal structure ) and the launch of a platform for learning resources ( www.seguimoseducando.gob.ar ).
It has been 7 months, large areas of the country do not have adequate digital resources to follow online teaching and the numbers of the pandemic do not seem to improve.
Another federal country that decided to centrally close schools completely from the start was Brazil . Today there are already many voices requesting its reopening since other sectors of the activity have begun to function. And the numbers of infections do not stop growing.
With a total closure of schools since March, which is still in force, there is also Colombia , where different resolutions of the central government have tried to implement distance teaching systems.
Surveys have been carried out with Colombian parents and they seem to agree with the measure, as well as the unions, which have opposed returning to the face-to-face mode, especially considering that the average age of teachers in Colombia is at the range of risk of complicating the disease.
Paraguay suffers a total closure of its schools since March 11. The measure affected the entire country and, nevertheless, there were and still exist several areas, especially rural ones, where there are practically no infected. Many believe that face-to-face classes should have continued in those areas.
For its part, Uruguay closed its schools on March 17, but reopened them in June, first in rural areas and later in urban ones. The staggered return to the classroom took into account age criteria and the relevance of the courses.
The closures have serious consequences. These countries are characterized by living realities with great internal inequality. The pandemic has exposed social gaps to a greater extent. For example, regarding the availability of computers or mobile phones at home and Internet access.
This has made it difficult for many students to follow alternative teachings to schooling.
In Colombia , for example, 22.3% of educational institutions closed and do not offer virtual classes, and 21% of schools offer virtual classes, but families do not have devices to follow them. And in Paraguay, only 20% of the population access the internet from a device such as a personal computer or tablet.
USA, Russia and China
Other countries have not taken that step as drastically. Giants like the US , Russia or China serve as an example. There, the central governments have delegated the decision to the federal governments and the closings have been mostly partial, yes, with numerous prevention measures, such as taking temperature, constant ventilation of the classrooms, disinfection between class shifts. , the obligation of masks, etc.
What happens in Europe?
Also in the European environment, the closure of schools has been a measure taken only during the hardest moments of the first wave of the pandemic. Currently, despite more or less strict social confinement measures, France , Germany , Italy or the United Kingdom keep their schools open.
However, the measures lead to the temporary closure of some specific groups in which a case of the disease is detected. The so-called “bubble groups” (keeping children in small contact groups) allow to isolate a smaller number of students when a case appears.
Increase in inequality
It is evident that a school closure without adequate social and family conditions increases inequality. The universal right to education enshrined in the universal declaration of Human Rights and in many other supranational educational policy documents is manifestly violated for millions of minors. In addition, some epidemiological follow-ups would make it possible to affirm that schools are not a main source of contagion in the case of minors .
All this reaffirms the position that it does not seem appropriate to close schools, as long as scrupulous measures to prevent contagions and to monitor detected cases are followed.
Thus, it is convenient to warn about the risk of a collapse in the educational system. We echo the aforementioned UNESCO report that reminds us that education, beyond a fundamental right in itself, is the key to being able to exercise other fundamental rights. “When the education system collapses, peace, prosperity, and productive societies become unviable.”
Author Bio: Javier M. Valle is Director of the Research Group on Supranational Educational Policies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
The author is grateful for the collaboration of Guillermo Ramón Ruiz (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina); Leandro de Campos Caldeirao (Autonomous University of Madrid); Beatriz Macedo (Uruguay); Vanessa Monterroza Baleta (Colombia); Wilson Daniel Palacios García (Colombia); Amanda Fulford (Edge Hill University, UK); Carmen Tortosa (USA); María Sokolova (Don State Technical University, Russia); Francisco Javier Giménez Duarte (National University of Pilar, Paraguay); Anton Vorochkov (Autonomous University of Madrid) and Vlademir Marim (Federal University of Uberlândia, Brazil).