Last week, we learnt that the municipal corporation in Mumbai has ordered schools to remain closed for another six weeks which means that by the time schools reopen in Mumbai – which most parents are hoping will be March 2023 – it will be two years since our kids last went to school. Obviously, Mumbai’s homebound schoolchildren’s plight has been replicated the world over and at this stage, none of us can even begin the understand the toll that this will take on the health & education outcomes of this generation of kids. However, one country has over the last two years taken a different tack. Now that it is clear that England’s insistence on schools remaining open through the Covid-19 crisis has not exacerbated the crisis, it is worth understanding why the English went down this counter-intuitive path and why other countries can learn from the English experience.
Stephanie Murray says in this piece that the English began by conducting a survey which prioritised giving vulnerable children the chance to continue attending school: “In the days leading up to England’s first lockdown, the nursery where my daughter was slated to begin preschool sent out a digital survey to all parents, asking what we did for work. Schools and day cares, we learned, had been instructed to close to all but vulnerable children—such as kids with special needs, those living in temporary accommodations, or those whose families had histories of drug abuse or domestic abuse—and children with caregivers “whose work is critical to the coronavirus response.” This group included not just people in health care but teachers, nursery workers, police, and firefighters, as well as anyone working in food distribution, transportation, or the justice system.”
Stephanie says that what this survey highlighted is that Government understood that schooling isn’t just about education, it is also a form a childcare – a point that seems to have escaped other governments as many families in Marcellus will testify. If you shut down schools, you make it that much harder for essential workers like doctors, nurses, policewomen, financial services employees, pilots, firefighters, etc to go work: “School isn’t just for learning; it also provides a vital form of child care, one that some families rely on more than others. For many vulnerable children, school is a lifeline that society should do everything in its power to avoid cutting off. And if someone’s work is considered essential—that is, requiring their physical presence—then so is the child care they require to do it…
Given that one of the primary goals of pandemic management is to protect hospital capacity, the U.K.’s decision not to pull the child-care rug out from under nurses and doctors seems sensible. Finland and Norway made a similar call, offering special care arrangements for children of key personnel.”
This ability to assess (by using survey data) which children needed to come to school the most become more useful as the pandemic wore on and teachers fell ill with Covid-19: “Keeping schools open for children of essential workers won’t prevent teacher shortages. You can’t open a school for anyone if all of your staff are sick. Even in the event that students must be sent home because of staff shortages, though, official guidance in the U.K. advises that schools should make every effort to continue face-to-face schooling for vulnerable children and children of crucial workers. At the end of last year, when many Welsh schools switched to remote learning because of staff shortages, on-site schooling remained open to pupils with “no other alternatives.””
India’s democracy is in more ways than one like America’s democracy – officially it is Government by the people and for the people. In the real world, in Stephanie Murray’s words: “By now, it’s become impossible to ignore the toll that the pandemic has taken on children in America, particularly the most vulnerable. Evidence suggests that even students who endured relatively short school disruptions in Europe have suffered. School closures may be inevitable during a pandemic, but I’m grateful that the government here has made a meaningful effort to spare essential workers and vulnerable children the worst of them. And as Omicron-induced school closures begin to sweep across America, I hope governments there make the same effort.”
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