Why are schools open despite the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are some answers (if you’re here for the playdough recipes, skip ahead)

School parent panic response

Most of you know I’ve been hanging in the Australian education space for a very, very, very long time. I still have kids in school too.
More and more, I’m hearing really worried people demanding to know WHY schools are still open.

And look, I get it just like I get the urge to buy more pasta than I need (if I could find it!) . It feels like this is the next wave of panic responses. First it was the hand sanitiser and face masks, then the toilet paper, then the rice, and now we’re up to: OMG HOW CAN SCHOOLS STILL BE OPEN!

We are all used to our kids being Super Germ Spreaders and it’s normal to react in a protective way. We are so accustomed to locking down whenever there’s a ‘bug’ going around – but this time is different for kids. And I say this with my household including school students and an immune-suppressed septuagenarian.

If you don’t want to see it spiral away down a plughole, you need to show some confidence and trust yourself.

Because this…

Here are just some of the reasons why it’s not a priority to close our schools:

  • Because school aged children are by far the least susceptible to the virus. The largest study so far of confirmed cases (journal article China’s CDC, 44K cases) found fewer than 1% were children aged 10yrs or less. Kids get it less often and more mildly.
  • Because schools are extremely good at managing groups of children and adults in any sized gathering. If you want any advice on how to limit the numbers in social contact, ask a school. It’s a daily thing.
  • Because we need parents who are also doctors and nurses and cannery managers and pasta makers and delivery truck drivers and Coles shelf-stackers to be able to go to work instead of sitting at home with the kids.
  • Because even if you have grandparents available to care for children so you can work, that’s a *terrible* idea because older people are by far the most susceptible to the virus. Yes, kids can still carry the virus but see above: even asymptomatic cases in children are significantly below adults. The current advice is don’t let them near older people – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go to school
  • Because the economy can cope with only so many people who aren’t used to working from home spending 70% of their time doing laundry and finding snacks before they get their home-office groove on (like me, every time I take more than a few days break from home-working!)
  • Because (see below) distance education is a poor substitute for normal schooling and no, having a school laptop doesn’t fix that.
  • Because the whole of society is a construct based on confidence and trust. If you don’t want to see it spiral away down a plughole, you need to show some confidence and trust yourself.

Seriously, you don’t want kneejerk distance ed

You might be thinking why are schools open when every child has a digital device – usually a laptop – and an internet connection? Aren’t we already geared up for distance education?

Well sadly, kids having equipment doesn’t = distance ed. why?

Internet connections aren’t fair and free

You’ve got questionable internet connections in some homes that brings in a social disadvantage aspect – that’s probably not your place because you’re able to read this blog post. But trust me, there are plenty of Australian homes where the only internet connection is someone’s phone and if they take it out with them their kids can’t hotspot to the school system.

Distance education is a skilled area

Distance education requires considerable administrative activity – tech support, office management and teacher leadership. You need functional online class groupings, webinar bookings and, dare I say it, teachers who actually know how to deliver via screens instead of in person. As a recipient of considerable distance education for myself as a child and adult, it’s not the way I want my two Year 12 students to be keeping up.

Oh great, more screen time…

Then there’s a workplace health and safety issue around sitting teachers and students at screens for even, say, half the amount of a normal school day, especially if it goes on for weeks.  You already worry about how much screen time your kids get. Removing their open air play and in-person class time will only add to that imbalance.

Isolation is very important in some cases, but in others it’s not necessary and could really make a bad situation much worse.

What to do?

First up, take a big breath – out as well as in – and do that four times.  I’ll wait until you’re done, bloss.

We all need to keep our eyes on care and kindness and community.  Isolation is very important in some cases, but in others it’s not necessary and could really make a bad situation much worse. We’ve seem, at last, to have a government that may be listening to proper Big Brained Scientists and Economists and I’m mostly happy with that.

Secondly, make sure you open those school emails that (ahem) sometimes go to your inbox to die (I have teenagers, ok? They do their own excursion notes!). School principals are on this like donkey kong, folks.  The news you’re seeing about school closures is often based on completely different circumstances (eg, boarding schools, schools with high international student numbers, schools in Panicsville USA) and your school principal is going to be the number one authority for you to listen to.

But what if…

Thirdly, yes, this could all change next week or next month or even tomorrow. Be prepared.  If your household is always fighting over laptop chargers or powerboards, today might be a good day to go get a spare. A few USBs are always handy if kids are doing schoolwork at home too – because nothing tops the agony of a Year 8 boy who’s lost half an essay because he’d saved it to the school storage system and that just dropped out.

And with all the love in my heart for worried parents I say by all means keep your own kids at home if you want to and your school isn’t threatening truancy charges, and hey, maybe make some alternative playdough to help you all stay chill – because you there’s plenty of cornflour and rice flour out there if you can’t buy the normal flour

why are schools open and playdough

No plain flour? No worries. Use this rice flour recipe @unyuckyfamilies

why are schools open and playdough

No plain flour? No worries. Use this cornflour recipe @unyuckyfamilies

Video – Ingredient substitutes in the COVID-19 buying panic

How to trust a child’s appetite

Why are Australian schools still open? Because. Also: playdough.

by Bec Time to read: 5 min