Closing schools for covid-19 does lifelong harm and widens inequality
The lives vs livelihood debate has become louder through the lockdown across the world with increasing calls to ‘reopen the economy’. But much of these calls have been towards helping the economically less fortunate to get back to a means of livelihood. In other cases, helping small businesses which don’t have the wherewithal to survive an extended lockdown. Several have cited the collapse of the financial system from such businesses going down as another reason to lift the lockdown. However, most agree on schools being shutdown for an extended period. This piece in the Economist argues why the long term effects of keeping schools closed may be even more damaging than some of the far more visible effects in the hear and now.
“Schools have striven to remain open during wars, famines and even storms. The extent and length of school closures now happening in the rich world are unprecedented. The costs are horrifying. Most immediately, having to take care of children limits the productivity of parents. But in the long run that will be dwarfed by the amount of lost learning. Those costs will fall most heavily on those children who are most in need of education. Without interventions the effects could last a lifetime.
For these reasons Singapore in 2003 cut its month-long June holiday by two weeks to make up for a fortnight of school closures during the SARS epidemic. Closing schools even briefly hurts children’s prospects. In America third-graders (seven-year-olds) affected by weather-related closures do less well in state exams. French-speaking Belgian students hit by a two-month teachers’ strike in 1990 were more likely to repeat a grade, and less likely to complete higher education, than similar Flemish-speaking students not affected by the strike. According to some studies, over the long summer break young children in America lose between 20% and 50% of the skills they gained over the school year.”
Whilst online classes can somewhat help compensate where subject matter is concerned but the softer aspects of learning in a physical setting can’t be made up by the digital world, especially among younger kids. Also, access to online tools is not uniform, depriving the very section of society which benefits the most from schooling, likely resulting in further increasing inequalities.
“Social and emotional skills such as critical thinking, perseverance and self-control are predictors of many things, from academic success and employment to good health and the likelihood of going to jail. Whereas older children can be plonked in front of a computer, younger ones learn far more when digital study is supervised by an adult.
…For poorer children, internet connections may be ropey. Devices may have to be shared and homes may be overcrowded or noisy. Of the poorest quarter of American children, one in four does not have access to a computer at home. Less well-off children everywhere are less likely to have well-educated parents who coax them to attend remote lessons and help them with their work. In Britain more than half of pupils in private schools are taking part in daily online classes, compared with just one in five of their peers in state schools”