Report Nº: 86120/05/2020
Evidence shows that children and youngsters face a very low risk of falling seriously ill with coronaviruses. However, schools are kept closed with distance learning. The lockdown causes enormous harm to poor students because they suffer limited availability of computers in their homes.
Sweden’s strategy for dealing with the coronavirus is one of the most controversial. In that country, isolation focuses on those most susceptible to complications from the coronavirus, which are people over 65 years and those suffering from chronic diseases. The rest of the population, which can be infected but have a low risk of complications, continue their activities. In particular, children and youngsters up to the age of 15 keep attending school.
In most countries, however, education is the activity that has been most relentlessly disrupted. Classes were discontinued, and children and youngsters confined to their homes. In the countries of the northern hemisphere, the discontinuation was transitory as students are returning to school after two months of suspension. In Argentina, the situation is much more complicated because it has not yet experienced the peak of infection and has yet to go through the winter. The authorities say they will not assess the possibility of returning to classrooms until August.
Meanwhile, it is proposed that classes continue virtually. In other words, they must be held through computers and the Internet. In order to evaluate the implications of this type of pedagogical methodology, some data from the INDEC can be useful. According to this source, it can be seen that:
These data show that the claim that education goes on with closed schools is false. This statement may be true among children and youth from higher-income households. But for a high share of students living in low-income families, it is not possible because they do not have computers. For this reason, stating that schools can remain closed until August or September implies enormous discrimination in detriment of the humblest children.
Banning children and youngsters from attending school is a public health decision divorced from evidence-based medicine. There is broad consensus and evidence that children and young people are less exposed to coronavirus infection and much less risk of suffer it severely in case they catch it. However, due to prejudice or misbelief, contrary to what the medical evidence indicates, health and education authorities generate panic in the population convince it that the alleged benefit of staying at home is higher than the cost for the loss of school learning.
Evidence also indicates that not having classes has negative effects on children when they reach adulthood. In a study, “The long-term effects of teacher strikes: evidence from Argentina” (DOI: 10.1086/703134) it is pointed out that Argentine children who suffer from teacher strikes have lower salaries and suffer more unemployment when adults. This study was carried out by foreign researchers using data from Argentina since –according to them– it is the country that has had teacher strikes most consistently since 1983. According to this research, Argentinean students lose half a year in their school life due to strikes with very negative consequences for their future. Keeping schools closed because of the coronavirus will have similar effects, concentrated in lower-income households.
The Argentine education system was already in crisis before the coronavirus. In the PISA 2018 tests, Argentina is behind Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Colombia and the same level of Peru, when 20 years ago Argentina led the region and was far ahead of Peru. Lockdown will aggravate this woeful performance. It also highlights other failures, such as the national program “Connecting Equality”, which was supposed to universalize access to computers for needy children.