COVID-19 : why it is necessary to re-open schools now

COVID-19 : pourquoi il faut rouvrir les écoles maintenant

COVID-19 : pourquoi il faut rouvrir les écoles maintenant

May 3, 2020 4: 00


COVID-19 : why it is necessary to re-open schools now

Patrick Charland

Department of didactics, UQAM

Caroline Coulombe

School of management sciences, UQAM

Jonathan Bluteau

Education and specialized training, UQAM

Nadia Turgeon

UNESCO chair in curriculum development, UQAM

Olivier Arvisais

Department of didactics, UQAM


THE SCIENCE IN HIS WORDS / The government of Québec, like many educational systems, presented on April 27 its plan for the next reopening of primary schools.

In his press briefing, the prime minister, François Legault, has listed five reasons that justify the reopening of schools. From our point of view, the argument presented was awkward and not very convincing for parents who are concerned about the health of their children. Stating that the situation is “under control in the hospitals,” the government has implied that the opening of the schools is likely to lead to hospitalizations.

Later, during the press conference presenting the details of the reopening, minister Jean‑François Roberge spoke very briefly a few considerations that justify the return to school.

However, in the context where the parents will soon have to inform the school board of their decision to return, or not, their children to school, it appears to us necessary to insist on the fundamental reasons why it is necessary that the Quebec reopens in may next, of its primary schools.

Not a matter of immunity

First, this is not to create a herd immunity. Even if this idea seems to have been removed from the governmental discourse, it is crucial to remember the fact that it is still a mere hypothesis. For the moment, the OMSrappelle we don’t know if the people who have had the Covid-19 will be immune and for how long. Research on the immunity generated by an actual exposure to the virus is in its infancy. Many uncertainties still remain.

It is pertinent to mention that the epidemiological data that are present suggest that the children would be less likely to be infected by the virus than adults ; they would also be potentially less affected by the disease and receive less of the virus. These researches tend to show that a re-opening of primary schools could be safe.

In addition, the data of other epidemics suggests that transmission in schools plays only a minor role. Also, some studies have estimated that the transmission in the classroom was low.

Vigilance is required

That being said, even if these preliminary findings are reassuring, many uncertainties remain. Moreover, the latest position of the national Institute of public health of Quebec (INSPQ), which reiterates the importance of social distancing, contributes to the debate. It will therefore be necessary to maintain vigilance in ensuring the epidemiological surveillance and follow up rigorous in the first few weeks of returning to class.

Then, recall that the quebec school is characterized by its three-fold mission : to educate, socialize and qualify. Although the mission qualification has been temporarily set aside, the missions of instruction and socialization remain essential.

The school is not a babysitting service. It allows children and teenagers to build themselves as individuals socialized. After a confinement of several weeks, it appears essential to enable young people to rebuild their social relations. In addition, a return to the classroom is relevant to ensure a certain consolidation of skills and knowledge judged to be minimal.

Protect the most vulnerable

In addition, the school plays a role of protection for the children. It is essential to ensure their well-being. Some indicators, such as the substantial decline in reporting to the Directorate of youth protection (DYP), are worrying.

Then, the important support offered in schools suggests that thousands of children do not eat currently not in their hunger. In addition, students with special needs or who are disabled will no longer have access to services and treatments normally provided in schools.

COVID-19 : pourquoi il faut rouvrir les écoles maintenant

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That being said, if the return class is justified by the educational benefits and counseling, it is absolutely imperative that all school services and extracurricular consistent are also at the rendez-vous. To this effect, according to the ministry guidelines, students will need to bring their own lunch. While this suggests that support services food will not be re-instated, we raterons and one of the targets for the re-opening of schools.

To avoid generating more anxiety

Humans, like any other species, have mechanisms to detect the threat. For more than six weeks, the public health messages and media suggest the presence of a real threat. However, once this threat is attenuated, it is not necessary to maintain the detector on alert indefinitely.

The decision not to return the children to school could contribute to generate further anxiety. If the Covid-19 was able to cause a certain collective trauma, it should not be add in the child. The behavior of the adults who accompany these children will be the determining factor, because, need I remind you, the fear, it can be learned !

Thus, from the point of view of the psychological adaptation, the return to school has advantages. Whether it be in spring or in September, the children will inevitably have to go back to school ! Currently, they are daily exposed to streaming news, to family tensions and are deprived of a great protective factor : social support.

The return to the classroom will help ensure a transition that is more favourable to the new school year in September, to have points of reference in time and space, and provide meaning to the situation. This re-opening of schools is likely to provide a psychological protection in favour of the mental health, social relationships and ritual school. It is an opportunity to reduce the adverse consequences of containment.

Is the department ready ?

The good practices of leadership and communication in times of crisis indicates that it is important ” to really pay attention to vulnerable people “, both in his actions in the communication to the public. The Quebec government responded quickly to the issues relating to the elderly and individuals in poor health. However, it is clear that one of the blind spots in this analysis of the vulnerable populations was the children.

We seem to have forgotten that children are beings vulnérablesque we need to protect. They are our future and what we have of most valuable. It is therefore not surprising that the shields are up and that the parents are concerned, especially the ministry of Education and higher Education has not been conspicuous by its leadership in recent weeks. There can be little doubt that it will be ready to effectively support the educational institutions in implementing safe and effective of the proposed plan.

Learn how to navigate to a view

Choosing the right path will be very difficult. The decisions of today and the future can only very partially be based on science. There are virtually no scientific data available as to how safe reopening of schools. We sail, around the world, in the face of uncertainty. The right to the error must be certainly allowed, but the co-creation of solutions should also be encouraged.

The actors of the educational system seem to consistently blame the fact of not having enough answers to their questions. This appears to us as symptomatic of a failure to find effective solutions acceptable to all stakeholders.

However, the context of the reopening of schools requires review of the principles of governance to allow for more weight in decision-making to all the stakeholders in the education system.

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This text first appeared on the website of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.

“The science in her words” is a forum where scientists of all disciplines can take the floor, either in open letters, or excerpts from books.

COVID-19 : pourquoi il faut rouvrir les écoles maintenant

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