School is the answer

After a month of lock down due to the Covid-19 crisis, most schools remain closed in most countries with 1,5 billion students out of school.

Universal school closure has obviously an impact on studies and learning achievements. Most of the debate turns around the day of reopening and when and how national evaluations will be done. But school closure has a tremendous immediate effect on health and education inequalities and reveals how important is the school network for public good.

We are suddenly reminded that school is the answer to many social issues. The following bullet points should help us think about the current situation

- Schools means daily basic care

Main reason for school to remain open or reopen is to provide children and parents with basic care: food, attention while parents work. The NY Times reported that out of the 10,521 public schools in California, only one – remained open to give assistance and care to children of families who work the citrus and walnut groves.  30 million students in the US qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches; they are 1,3 M. in the UK. In France according to UNICEF, more than 3 M. children live below the poverty line.

- Homeless children suffer most from the closure

According to a UCL research group, “young children under 5 years living in temporary accommodation rarely have the ability to self-isolate and adhere to social distancing, with previous extreme inequalities and inequities in accessing health care becoming exacerbated”. For instance more than 125.000 children were homeless and in temporary accommodation increased in England in 2019.

- School closures deepen education inequalities

According to a research published by the university of Leuwen, the summer holiday in most American schools is estimated to contribute to a loss in academic achievement equivalent to one month of education for children with low socioeconomic status.

- School closures will exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity

A research published in the United States reminds us that children experience most unhealthy weight gain primarily when they are out of school (normally during the summer months).


© WFP/Volana Rarivoson

© WFP/Volana Rarivoson

- Digital innovation was not ready at all in school

Teachers are struggling to find alternative ways of teaching. According to a recent survey made by Synlab with french teachers, 70% of respondents use mainly emails and phones for organizing and offering work to students.

- “Not everything is straightforward”

Videoconference doesn’t solve it all. Only 12% of teachers have set up a virtual classroom. Many teachers are sending the exercises via WhatsApp to families who have no other connection than the mobile. Dozens of municipalities in Navarra and the Basc country (Spain) are implementing systems to deliver door-to-door homework on paper to students who do not have the means to follow online teaching. Singapore has suspended the classroom use of Zoom, a videoconferencing tool with easy-to-use functions that have made it easy for trolls to hijack meetings and harass students

- Connecting with children is a key problem

According to a teacher quoted in the Spanish daily El País, Antonio Solano, director of the Bovalar de Castellón high school, “One of the ones that worries me the most is a boy I have in class, who was working well and whom we have been calling with no results. And I think: but where will he be, what will he be doing?”. In France, 17% of teachers have failed to connect with families, mainly in high schools where the rate rises to almost 40%.

The problem didn’t start with the Covid-19. 263 million children were out-of-school worldwide in the most recent data (2014) published by UNESCO.

- The digital divide widens education inequalities

Remote learning is a fantasy for those who cannot afford internet access”. 10% of Americans — nearly 33 million people — are living without internet, according to a Pew Research study.

 - Parents’ dependency creates more inequalities

Homework is now the rule but most disadvantaged children don’t do “homework”. The homework gap refers to the barriers students face at school when they don’t have access to a high-speed internet connection at home. We are reminded that inequality starts much before school starts. A research team from the University of Michigan showed that disadvantaged children start kindergarten with significantly lower cognitive skills than their more advantaged counterparts. These same disadvantaged children are then placed in low-resource schools, magnifying the initial inequality.

 - Children violence remains

Lockdown due to Covid-19 has emphasized the reality of violence suffered by children. This is unfortunately not new. Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year.

 - School closures didn’t occur only with the Covid-19 crisis

UNICEF reminded a year ago that more than 1.9 million children had been forced out of school in West and Central Africa due to an upsurge in attacks and threats of violence.




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