New Delhi: There is no correlation between schools reopening and a surge in Covid cases, reveals a new study that analysed data from 191 countries. It also notes that the pandemic has disrupted 300 billion working school days in total.
The report, published Thursday by Insights for Education, an independent foundation based in Switzerland, also estimates that 711 million children will not be returning to schools in 2020. This is nearly half of the 1.6 billion primary and secondary students in the world in total.
A vast majority of these students, about 84 per cent of them, will be from lower-income countries, the study adds.
The researchers analysed decisions made and approaches taken by the governments of 191 countries regarding opening schools in the last six months.
“While decisions must reflect local conditions, it’s essential to study the evidence to avoid making false assumptions about the impact of opening and closing schools on virus transmission,” said Randa Grob-Zakhary, founder and CEO of Insights for Education, in a statement.
“It’s been assumed that opening schools will drive infections, and that closing schools will reduce transmission, but the reality is much more complex,” she said.
“The key now is to learn from those countries that are reopening effectively against a backdrop of rising infections,” she added.
No correlation between school status and Covid cases: Study
As many as 92 per cent of the countries studied have reopened schools, even though some of them are still reeling under significantly high Covid-19 caseloads.
Students returned to schools in August and September in 52 countries, including France and Spain. All of these had witnessed a rise in infection rates during the lockdown but not after schools reopened.
In the UK and Hungary, infection levels dropped after initial closure, remained low during the holidays but began rising again after reopening.
However, a full analysis of these 52 countries concludes that no correlation can be established between the status of school and infection levels. Therefore, the researchers note, other additional factors need to be considered for the surge in cases.
While 45 countries worldwide have kept their schools closed, determining how to stay open rather than how to reopen is now the focus for most, according to the study.
Different school procedures in different countries
The report also lists out the various measures taken up by different countries.
For example, in Italy, if a student or staff member tests positive, the school may be temporarily closed to allow testing. Each decision is taken on a case-to-case basis by local authorities and depends on the spread of the virus, the level of contact, the layout of the school buildings and many other factors.
In France, health protocols have been slightly relaxed in pre-school and primary schools to limit school closures. Unless three children are found Covid-19 positive within a classroom, children don’t have to get tested and classes will remain open.
While routine testing for teachers and students is not common, several countries including Japan and Germany are working on fast-tracking testing for schools with positive cases, to reduce the number of days schools have to remain shut.
The report notes that establishing trust with parents and teachers, and co-developing guidelines is fundamental to the successful reopening of schools.
Japan, for example, publishes data on the number of closure days per school, which has helped build trust and confidence among parents, according to the study.
“Understanding how countries undergoing a massive second-wave are dealing with this new reality in the classroom is essential to guide future reopening decisions and to help schools remain open,” said Grob-Zakhary.
“Relentless tracking and sharing of these observations can offer decision-makers insight and confidence to get the most marginalized students back to schools as soon as possible,” she added.