For millions of children around the world, the return to school for a new term has been a strictly virtual one. School-age children are among those worst affected by governments’ decisions to lock down their economies to slow the spread of coronavirus. A prolonged absence from school will mean a gap in valuable learning and the loss of social interaction with peers. Children from poorer families are particularly at risk. As many parents, teachers and children will have found in recent weeks, online learning is no easy substitute for the classroom.
How to reopen schools is one of the biggest, and trickiest, decisions governments confront as they consider how to relax the lockdowns. Some data suggests young children, in particular, are less likely to be infected by Covid-19, and transmit the virus less than older ones. A recent population study ;in Iceland, which has kept primary schools open throughout the crisis, found children under the age of 10 had a lower incidence of infection than adolescents or adults. Some studies — including one published last Thursday by the Institut Pasteur ;of an outbreak at a lycée in a town north-east of Paris — show that there have been cases of high infection rates within secondary schools.
There can therefore be no one-size-fits-all approach on how best to reopen schools. Policymakers will need to take multiple factors into account, including what stage they are at in the pandemic and cultural considerations. Societies where multigenerational households are common must take particular care. Research has suggested that several generations living under one roof may have accelerated the spread of Covid-19 in Italy.