Prioritising school reopening on the road to recovery

Source: The Hindu 

Relevance: This article justifies reopening the schools.


Children have long borne the costs of school closure, and evidence-based decisions toward reopening are a necessity.

  • Most schools in India have been closed since the national lockdown started in March 2020.
  • However, many experts are now demanding a reopening as the adverse impacts of closure are severely outweighing the risk of reopening. Further, the second wave of Covid-19 has begun to fall, across the country.
Adverse impacts of school closure:
  • First, the bottom half of children passing Class 10 are about two years behind in terms of skills. Prolonged school closure has widened this gap, thereby pushing the next generation deeper into poverty.
  • Second, the dropout rate in the country would be enhanced. A survey across 10 States in India in November 2020 estimated that nearly two-thirds of children in rural India may drop out of school. This figure would worsen this persistent closure.
  • Third, prolonged school shutdown has severely pushed back India’s fight against ills such as child labour and child marriage.
  • Fourth, it has restrained the effective implementation of crucial schemes like the mid-day meal. In June 2020, it was estimated that about 800,000 additional children would face underweight and wasting.
  • Fifth, extended school closure has a severe impact on children’s mental health. In Las Vegas, the U.S., a surge of student suicides forced schools to reopen in January 2021. The United Kingdom reported a 40% rise in the number of children taking antidepressants.
What is the risk of school reopening?
  • The risk of COVID-19 for children is much lower than for adults. Based on a study of 137 million school-age children in the U.S. and Europe, it was observed that COVID-19 is less than half as risky as seasonal influenza in children.
    • Similarly, a study among the nearly two million children in Sweden (where schools have been open throughout), found that there was not a single child death due to COVID-19. 
    • As per Mumbai’s dashboard data, the COVID-19 IFR (Infection Fatality Rate) for under-19 is minuscule: about 0.003%  
  • Various regions around the world which have been worse hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic than India, have kept their schools mostly open. 
    • This includes various European countries such as Portugal, France, the Netherlands, etc.
    • The State of Florida (United States) opened schools for in-person classes in late September 2020, and they stayed open through their second wave. 
  • There has been a concern that a possible third wave involving newer variants could affect children. But a careful look at the data tells that the age profiles of those affected in the second and first waves are similar. There is no scientific basis for this fear.
  • Further, there have been several careful scientific studies across various regions in Europe/U.S., measuring the role of in-person classes in COVID-19 spread. The overwhelming conclusion is that the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools is minimal compared to other locations. 
Way Ahead:
  • Policymakers must make evidence-based decisions toward school reopening. This is the least the working class and the children of India deserve.
  • To reduce the concern among teachers, the Government must treat them on a par with essential workers, and offer them prioritized vaccination.
  • A differentiated approach of partial reopening can also be analyzed for children having sufficient access to digital tools. However, for children who lack the resources, whose parents have to go out to work every day, in-person schooling is paramount.
  • Further, the vaccination drive for children must be based on a careful risk-benefit analysis.
    • It is pertinent to note that there are growing concerns in the U.S. of a potential link between heart inflammation and the mRNA vaccine, among adolescents.
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