In a guest post for the Tagesspiegel, personalities from educational research, sociology and medicine warn against renewed school closings and the broader introduction of hybrid lessons to contain the pandemic. The schools in Germany are not yet digitally set up for this, children from educationally disadvantaged families could fall further behind and also suffer psychological and physical damage.
The authors of the article are Jutta Allmendinger, President of the Science Center Berlin, Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, Professor of Macroeconomics and Development at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Johannes Hübner, Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD, and Nicola Brandt, Head of the OECD Berlin Center.
Children are far less affected by Covid-19 as a disease than adults. But there is probably no group that has suffered more from the containment measures. In particular, children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds were thrown far behind in the spring. At that time, schools and daycare centers were the first to close public institutions – only to find themselves at the bottom of the opening list.
The right to education should now have priority in the second “lockdown light”, there is consensus in politics. That is a big step forward compared to spring. But what exactly does priority for education mean? There is hardly any aspect of pandemic management that Germans are currently debating more heatedly.
[Lesen Sie dazu auch: Was spricht gegen den Hybridunterricht – Fragen und Antworten aus der Redaktion]
Classroom teaching? Hybrid interchangeable models in which some of the students switch to the classroom from home? Or shouldn’t everything be closed again as a precaution because the management of quarantine cases is so complicated? No wonder that the topic continues to heat up the mind and unsettle families.
With digitization only at the beginning
From the perspective of OECD educational studies, two facts must be kept in mind in this debate. Firstly, the PISA studies show time and again that, even in the best of times, the German school system does not sufficiently support children from disadvantaged parental homes in catching up. Second, the German education system is only just beginning when it comes to digitization.
Only a third of schools had effective online learning platforms in 2018. This puts Germany in the bottom third of the PISA countries. Not only is there a lack of digital infrastructure, but above all there is a lack of trained teachers who can meaningfully integrate digital technologies into lessons, as well as technical staff to support the teachers.
[Lesen Sie dazu den Artikel von Christian Füller über Laptops und Lernplattformen: Digitale Revolution im Schnelldurchlauf]
Too late to tackle the winter pandemic
Countries that can relatively easily switch to digital teaching from home, such as China, Singapore, Finland, Canada or Estonia, have been investing in infrastructure, innovative teaching concepts and teachers’ skills in using digital technologies for many years.
One might complain that politics could have done more in recent years. The fact is: you can’t make up such a backlog in a few months. Investing in digital education is worthwhile. But they are too late to cope with this pandemic winter.
If you switched to teaching from home, the weakest students in particular would be left behind. This is also shown by a recent study from the Netherlands. Although the country has an excellent infrastructure for digital learning, the students made about a fifth less learning progress in the past school year with a relatively mild lockdown than in normal years.
Children from poor families have been hit hardest. For them, the loss of learning progress is more than 50 percent higher than for children from households with a high level of education [einen redaktionellen Bericht über diese Studie finden Sie hier].
Do not have the time or skills to help you learn
Education is not just the transfer of knowledge, it is always relationship work and a social process. Face-to-face teaching cannot easily be replaced. Children who have learned to learn independently and find a supportive environment at home have less to fear in the lockdown.
Things are different when parents have to work and don’t have the time, money or skills to help with home study. Then the learning process, educational and career opportunities suffer, in many cases permanently. The affected cohorts could lose between one to three percent of their lifetime income just because schools were closed in spring.
What is more important: learning builds on previously acquired knowledge and skills. That is why the negative effects on career and life opportunities increase the longer schools and care facilities remain closed. It is the most difficult for the youngest to catch up on the learning delay.
It is about the future innovative and economic strength of the whole country, but not only. School closings also have an impact on the health of those affected. Because these in turn are closely related to income and education.
But there is much more at stake for children. There are serious reports and studies of increasing violence against lockdown children. When schools and daycare centers are closed, nobody notices. Follow-up and prevention collapse. Children spend more time in front of the screen, exercise less, and put on weight a lot.
Motor and cognitive skills suffer as a result. The damage to health also threatens to be permanent. Many of them cannot get rid of obesity in childhood for a lifetime. This not only favors chronic diseases, but also a severe course of viral infections such as Covid-19 – not counteracting this would be a short-sighted health policy.
Sadness of being separated from friends
But we shouldn’t take psychological complaints as side effects of “lockdowns” lightly either: according to pediatricians, depression and grief over being separated from friends increased sharply in the spring.
There is good news: Younger children in particular are rarely affected by Covid-19. So we don’t have to worry about our children if they continue to meet their friends in daycare or school, play with them and learn.
Although there are now more cases of infection in schools and day-care centers when the overall number of infections increases, the vast majority of reliable studies seem to indicate that younger children in particular pass the disease on relatively rarely – unlike the flu, which has so far been the basis for Epidemic plans made.
“It’s not the flu – it’s not the flu” – that was the rallying cry in the spring that was intended to illustrate the seriousness of the Covid 19 pandemic. Hopefully this will continue to ring in the ears of politicians when they decide on the future for schools and daycare centers in the coming weeks and months.
Schools can limit risks
After all, while it is While it is possible to reduce the risk of spread in schools through effective hygiene measures, it is much more difficult to do so outside of the school environment. According to studies by the Hamburg school authorities, children are much more likely to be infected outside than inside schools.
[Über die Hamburger Studie und zur medizinischen Studienlage berichten Tilmann Warnecke und Sascha Karberg hier: Zahlenspiele, um Schulen offen zu halten]
Containing infections in schools is complicated, but it works so far. School principals are doing great things right now to manage this.
The state can help companies and employees with aid payments through lockdown phases. As in the spring, he can support the economic recovery with a strong “boom” of measures to stimulate the economy. But nobody can make up for the damage to health, development and career opportunities for children who have only limited access to education and contact with their friends over the long term.