It will soon be a year since the country’s schools were closed. The cost to students and parents has been enormous. It is time to open them again.
It is paradoxical that restaurants, gyms and other businesses already have permission to open and schools do not. Talk about the government’s priorities. And I do not disapprove of the decision to try to revive the economy. Several small and medium-sized businesses are close to breaking point and cannot stand to be closed for much longer. People have to go out to work to feed their family.
My problem is not that they open businesses, but that they do not open schools. If there is something essential it is education. Millions of children are falling behind by not having face-to-face classes, with serious short- and long-term academic and emotional consequences.
Those most affected are the poorest, who do not have the possibility to learn online. About half of the country’s households do not have internet access and six out of 10 do not have a computer. In states like Chiapas, the situation is even worse: 78% of the state’s houses do not have a connection and 84% do not have a computer. Learning on television is a very poor alternative. The impact of distance education will be less for the better-off children, which will cause educational inequality – and consequently economic inequality – to increase.
The closure of schools has not only hurt children. Fathers, especially mothers, have been forced to stay home to care for them, depriving many of them from going to work. The damage has also been psychological. Children need to hang out with their classmates to develop social skills and maintain their mental health. As a result of the confinement, anxiety and depression have increased.
I understand the concern of parents and teachers to reopen schools, but just as there are risks of having face-to-face classes, there are also risks of staying home. The costs and benefits of the two options must be weighed. In my opinion, it is clear which way the balance tips. It is also important to measure the risk of coronavirus in the classroom. Children are much less likely to get sick and appear less susceptible to transmitting the virus. Studies have shown that schools do not appear to be sources of contagion.
Obviously the openings have to be well planned and accompanied by protocols to protect children, teachers and support staff. Face masks should be used, respect the distance and avoid crowds, among other things. Schemes in which attendance may be optional can be explored, leaving the parents to make the final decision.
But it is time to act. Opening schools should be treated as nothing less than a national emergency. All risks are never going to be completely eliminated, but the benefits more than outweigh them.