The threat of COVID-19 led many countries to close their schools to prevent the spread of the disease. In March and April, about 190 countries kept 90% of students, or 1.57 billion children and youth, out of the classroom. By the beginning of May, some countries had tentatively restarted lessons in school, but plans varied; 100 countries had not set a date, 65 had plans to partially or fully reopen, and 32 countries decided to end the 2019-2020 school year online.
Clues to the Impact on Education
Reports on COVID-19’s impact on education has had mixed results, but are generally considered negative. Although many schools offer online learning, the rush to develop an effective online curriculum, the lack of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, adjusting to new online classroom protocols, and the practical problems of gaining reliable access to a computer, electricity, and the internet have led to constraints in learning. Student assessments have also had to move online with important exams being cancelled.
Previous experiments give some indication of the impact of COVID-19 on learning. One trial in Sweden gave a group of male students different amounts of time to revise for an important test. The results showed that 10 days of additional study time significantly improved results for crystallized intelligence, which includes reading comprehension and vocabulary.
Another experiment compared class lesson time in math, language, and science between Denmark and Austria. Class instruction in Denmark was 55% more than Austria and resulted in a 6% increase in test score results. If applied to the COVID-19 lockdown, three months of missed class instruction and study time suggests a maximum of 10% of lost knowledge.
Countries Restarting School
The countries that are already opening their schools include China, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, and Taiwan. Although the response to classroom teaching varies, health and safety practises can be divided into health screening, quarantine and school closure policies, group size and staffing levels, and classroom space and physical distancing.
Group size and physical distancing have a big impact on the school layout that has led to both makeshift and longer-term changes, including the use of dividers, Perspex partitions, and wall cladding for school classrooms. In parts of China, class sizes are reduced from 50 to 30 students, with group desks separated and dividers used.
In Denmark, the class sizes are reduced to accommodate a two-meter distancing rule, with the use of outdoor space, gyms, and other school facilities used for extra space. Norway also encourages the use of extra space and enforces a maximum class size is 15 for children in Grades 1 to 4 and 20 for Grades 5 to 7.
Singapore and Taiwan have no maximum class sizes; Singapore schools ensure that rooms are large enough for a one to two metre distancing while Taiwan has students stay in their classroom while subject teachers move between classes. Both countries break-up group desks for distancing, with some Taiwanese classrooms using dividers.
In the UK, the government announced a phased return of students starting on 15th June. How long the restrictions remain is uncertain, but the possibility of a second spike in COVID-19 cases has to be balanced against the loss of face-to-face learning and the longer implications to career prospects of future graduating cohorts.