The importance of education cannot be overstated. Education provides stability, social opportunities, nutrition, skillsets and feedback that many young people don’t receive at home. Education leads us into a future with adults who are capable, socially adept, and productive members of society. Today, in the USA, with the stresses and school closures associated with the Covid outbreak, there is growing concern for the academic and emotional well-being of an entire generation of children and what the future may hold for them. Meanwhile, many European nations have kept schools open, perhaps providing a model that can help us to safely re-open the future for our children by getting them back into the classroom.
In both Germany and Ireland closing schools seemed almost non-negotiable. Angela Merkel, the German Prime Minister, closed sports, cultural events and restaurants saying, “It is important to bear in mind the social consequences,” of school closures, and Michael Martin, the Irish PM stated, , “We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease. They need their education.”
After thorough disease data tracking, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported on the role of schools in Covid transmission. Their conclusion; “Schools are an essential part of society and children’s lives. Closing schools should always be a last resort in efforts to control a pandemic. If proper and consistent measures are in place, schools do not pose a greater risk of infection for children than any other public place, and are unlikely to drive transmission of the virus.”
At its base, the European school model is simple; require masks, isolate groups of children by class, and keep classrooms well ventilated. European medical experts have determined that mask wearing, social distancing and air circulation are highly effective against viral transmission in schools.
In France, all children 6 years and older, are required to wear masks. This works great until lunchtime, “Right now having lunch all together indoors with windows closed is a problem,” said Dr. Hélène Rossinot, a French doctor specializing in public health. “We propose that (meals) … be served in (well ventilated) classrooms. That they not eat all together, just by class.”
Here in the US school closures seem to be fear driven, with little concern for the long term effects on children and society. Teachers are overworked, stressed and afraid of getting sick. Parents are doing double duty, trying to manage childcare while remote working. Others have little access to or understanding of the technology needed to engage in remote lessons with their children. The Europeans are showing that schools can and should remain open. Let’s learn from their successes and get our kids back in school.