Denmark, Norway, and Taiwan reopen schools

Year three: Exhibits from the Tate show by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Steve McQueen. © Steve McQueen

Should schools reopen on 1 June? Some believe that keeping them closed is essential to controlling the coronavirus pandemic. Others, however, think it is doing more harm than good.

For Elsa Jensen, it was a horrible shock.

She had been looking forward to staying at home in Copenhagen for weeks and weeks after Easter, with an extended holiday because of the coronavirus pandemic. But last week, Denmark’s prime minister broke the news that for children aged 11 and younger, schools would open again tomorrow, after being closed for only a month. What could be more unfair?

Because of the pandemic, 90% of students around the world have been out of school. But now things are changing. In Taiwan, which acted very quickly to contain the virus, schools reopened at the end of February. In Norway, they will start reopening on Monday.

British experts and politicians are sharply divided.

Some within the government are demanding that schools go back at the end of the Easter holidays. One unnamed minister told the Times that this “could kick-start the economy”.

Those who share this view have been encouraged by a report by academics at University College London (UCL). It suggests that closing schools makes very little difference to the spread of the virus, perhaps reducing it by as little as 2%.

The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, thinks that the end of the May half term is a likely time for schools to go back

So, should schools reopen on 1 June?

Sometime never

Some argue that it would be unwise to put a huge number of children back into contact with each other before the danger has passed. The suggestion that they could be distanced from each other within their schools is completely impractical.

Others say that schools must reopen as soon as possible. The closure is particularly damaging for children from poor homes, who do not have many resources for learning at home and may go hungry without school meals.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather have long terms and long holidays, or short terms and short holidays?

Activities

  1. Make a Venn diagram with the names of all the people you come into regular contact with. In one circle, list those you meet during the school term; in the other, list those you meet in the holidays. The people you meet both times should appear where the circles overlap.

Some People Say...

“Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing.”

William Congreve (1670-1729), English playwright and poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The UCL team’s findings are based on studies of other coronavirus outbreaks, such as the 2003 Sars epidemic. They concluded that school closures are most effective if a disease is not highly contagious and children are particularly vulnerable to it. Since neither of those is true of Covid-19, it should be treated differently. But critics say that the report does not include enough relevant data.
What do we not know?
How likely children are to pass the virus on to other people. Some experts believe that the more symptoms people show, the more infectious they are – and as children usually show very few symptoms, they are not very infectious at all. But with other viruses, such as colds and flu, children are often described as “super spreaders” because they come into contact with so many people at school and elsewhere.

Word Watch

Denmark
A northern European country, which includes more than 400 islands, and whose capital is Copenhagen.
Taiwan
An island off the south-east coast of China. After communist forces won control of China in 1949, their nationalist opponents retreated to Taiwan, which they named the Republic of China. Its capital is Taipei.
Norway
A northern European country, famous for its dramatic coastal scenery, which neighbours Sweden and is divided by sea from Denmark. Its capital is Oslo.
Kick-start
Get something moving quickly. The term comes from pushing hard on a pedal to start a motorbike.
Economy
The way that money is made and spent.
Academics
Researchers, lecturers, and professors at universities.

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