We need to prioritise teachers and staff for COVID vaccination — and stop closing schools with every lockdown


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Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute; Archana Koirala, University of Sydney, and Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research InstituteYesterday Victoria announced a snap lockdown to last at least seven days starting from 11:59pm last night.

As part of the lockdown, schools will close and move to remote learning, and today is a pupil-free day while schools prepare to teach online. Only the children of authorised workers and vulnerable kids will continue to be able to learn in person.

It’s another episode of schools being closed seemingly as par for the course in any COVID-19 outbreak. While communities are concerned about the outbreak, the inclusion of schools in the lockdown should be as an extension of controls if transmission is more widespread, rather than the immediate response.

Despite good evidence, the previously developed traffic light system isn’t being used for schools during outbreaks in Australia. There’s currently no national plan to guide states and territories on how to manage schools during COVID outbreaks, and to advise them on the evidence and best-practice. This needs to change.

We argue schools should be prioritised to remain open, with transmission mitigation strategies in place, during low levels of community transmission.

What’s more, if schools are a priority, then vaccinating all school staff is something we should be urgently doing as part of these strategies.

Schools should be a priority

As paediatricians and vaccine experts, we believe kids’ well-being and learning should be among the top priorities in any outbreak.

We advocate for strategies to reduce the risk of COVID transmission in schools during outbreaks, including measures like:

  • minimising parents and other adults on the school grounds, including dropping kids off at the school gate rather than entering the school
  • parents, teachers, other school staff, and high-school students wearing masks
  • focusing on hand hygiene
  • enhanced physical distancing
  • good ventilation in classrooms and school buildings.

On top of this, we believe if schools, teachers and kids are viewed as a priority by decision makers, then vaccinating all school staff should urgently be considered.

Vaccinating all school staff would reassure those who have concerns about being at work in a school environment during a lockdown, and potentially lower the risk of spread in schools even further. This would increase the confidence in schools remaining open.

Kids are not major drivers of transmission

Kids can and do get sick with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, though they tend to get less severe disease.

The best available evidence suggests kids and schools are not major drivers of transmission, even though children can transmit the virus.




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Snap lockdowns have become the new norm in Australia for managing COVID transmission emerging from hotel quarantine. We strongly argue snap lockdowns shouldn’t automatically include schools. Data from overseas, where widespread community transmission is occurring, suggests schools remaining open with public health measures in place hasn’t changed transmission rates very much.

We advocate for schools to remain open, and if a student or teacher attends a school while infectious, the measures in place to test, trace, and isolate the primary and secondary contacts are activated. We have done it before. NSW was able to continue with face-to-face learning and had 88% attendance in term three 2020 even with low levels of community transmission.

When there’s rampant community spread like some countries overseas, this changes the risk-benefit equation and school closures may be needed. The traffic light system has been developed for exactly this scenario.




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We can’t close schools every time there’s a COVID outbreak. Our traffic light system shows what to do instead


But with an outbreak of 30 cases so far, we don’t think Victoria is near the flexion point where school closures are necessary. If there were many more, the risk equation would change, and the traffic light system could be applied.

Also, there’s a different risk equation for primary and secondary school students. Primary school kids are much less likely to transmit the virus than secondary school students. Daycare and early childhood centres remain open in Victoria. The evidence supports at least primary schools remaining open too.

We need a national plan on schools

Our concern is that jurisdictions are reaching for school closures as an almost predictable part of lockdown, without relying on a national plan to guide these decisions. The only current guidelines are the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) statement from February on reducing the risk of COVID spread in schools.

Only about 13% of Australians have received at least one COVID vaccine dose, and ongoing community COVID outbreaks are expected for at least the next year or more. So, we need a proper national plan on COVID and schools. States and territories would benefit from a national plan, as they could lean on it to make informed decisions on schools during outbreaks.

School closures cause enormous strain

Whenever school closures are announced, we hear many parents sigh and say things like “I won’t be able to get any work done!”. Indeed, school closures put enormous strain on families, especially working parents with pre-school or primary school aged children. Younger children require some supervision and are less likely to have the skills necessary to get value out of online learning, compared to older kids in the latter stages of high school who may be more independent.

Challenges might also include poor or no internet, not being able to have relevant supervision, or not having the right devices.

Home learning has a substantial impact on children’s well-being and mental health. Over 50% of Victorian parents who participated in a Royal Children’s Hospital poll in August 2020 reported homeschooling had a negative impact on their kids’ emotional well-being during the second wave in 2020. This was compared to 26.7% in other states. Jurisdictions keep playing into this risk if they keep closing schools.

It’s an absolute priority we find and use ways to support kids to continue face-to-face learning in times of low community transmission, especially primary schools. One important way to do this is to prioritise teachers and other school staff for COVID vaccines.




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Children, teens and COVID vaccines: where is the evidence at, and when will kids in Australia be eligible?


The Conversation


Asha Bowen, Program Head of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, and Head of Skin Health, Telethon Kids Institute; Archana Koirala, Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Specialist, University of Sydney, and Margie Danchin, Paediatrician at the Royal Childrens Hospital and Associate Professor and Clinician Scientist, University of Melbourne and MCRI, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: is it safe for kids to go back to school? And what about the new mutant strain?


Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute; Archana Koirala, University of Sydney; Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne; Kristine Macartney, University of Sydney, and Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

A year ago, in late January 2020, Australia reported its first cases of COVID-19. Since then, we have seen almost 29,000 confirmed cases and 909 deaths.

As cases climbed in Australian cities in 2020, many students did their schoolwork from home. Australia, including Victoria, came out of lockdowns at the end of last year. But due to outbreaks in New South Wales and Queensland over Christmas and New Year, that impacted on Victoria, restrictions remain in some places.

So what now, for the new school year? Is it safe for students to go back to school?

What we learnt in 2020

Australian health officials, paediatricians, and federal and state education departments worked together to understand how SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is transmitted in Australian schools.

They also kept updating, as more information came to light, what schools can do to provide a safe learning environment for children and staff.

Up to the end of term 3 in New South Wales, 49 student- and 24 staff- cases were linked to schools and early learning centres. Each of these cases, and their contacts, were followed since the pandemic began. Schools had low rates of transmission — with 51 transmission events (38 students, 13 staff) out of 5,793 contacts traced (<1%) — in terms 1, 2, and 3 when COVID-19 safe measures were in place.

Key measures were:

  • limiting adults in the school and early learning centre grounds

  • staying home when unwell with cold-like symptoms

  • getting tested early.

Most schools and early learning centres in NSW reopened after only a few days.

In Victoria, up until the end of August 2020, 1,635 cases were associated with early learning centres and schools. These consisted of 254 staff, 599 students and 753 household members, out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria during their second wave.

Two-thirds of infections in early learning centres and schools did not progress to outbreaks (two or more cases) and more than 90% were small outbreaks (fewer than ten cases).




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While transmission has been connected with a Victorian school in the media, transmission events often have a more complex basis than just occurring in the classroom. Schools are often located in a multi-generational community and cases in this large school cluster were linked to high community transmission rates rather than infection in the school.

These studies confirm that when SARS-CoV-2 is detected in a student or staff member, it is very unlikely for other students or staff to be infected at school with the processes put in place in 2020 to provide a safe learning environment.

In Western Australia, almost 14,000 asymptomatic staff and students were swabbed at the school in terms 2 and 3. No cases of SARS-CoV-2 were detected, consistent with the absence of community transmission in that state.

But why are other countries closing schools?

Overseas, studies have shown schools can implement health strategies to safely keep schools open and minimise SARS-CoV-2 transmission risks.

In the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention noted that: “trends among children and adolescents aged 0–17 years paralleled those among adults”. However, the organisation also reported:

as of the week beginning December 6, aggregate COVID-19 incidence among the general population in counties where K–12 schools offer in-person education (401.2 per 100,000) was similar to that in counties offering only virtual/online education (418.2 per 100,000).

In Norway, where testing is strong, schools were open with mitigation measures in place. There was minimal child-to-child (0.9%, 2 out of 234) and child-to-adult (1.7%, 1 out of 58) transmission.

Other countries have chosen to close schools as a last resort in national lockdowns in the face of extremely high rates of community transmission and daily case numbers, which meant only widespread reductions in population movements could be effective. This is not the case in Australia at the start of term 1, 2021.




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Children may transmit coronavirus at the same rate as adults: what we now know about schools and COVID-19


It is common for viruses to evolve and there have now been several new variants of concern such as those identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil which are more transmissible. The potential of such variants entering Australia is uncertain, and so is the risk of transmission in schools.

Reassuringly, if community transmission of such a variant occurs in Australia, we have established experience to monitor, and hopefully halt, its spread.

So, what should Australia do?

Remote learning provides considerable challenges to keep students engaged, reduces the close supervision and support in the classroom, and provides an added disadvantage for children with mental-health conditions, disabilities or special needs.

For parents, it is difficult to work effectively, provide for the family and maintain their well-being when their child is learning from home.




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Based on the above evidence, schools are safe to open. But states should adopt mitigation measures — including when to add masks, reduce attendance or close schools — according to a traffic light system from green (standard measures) to red (close schools) based on the degree of community transmission. The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has recommended this approach for Victoria. Education departments around Australia can consider a similar approach.

This is consistent with the recommendations of Australia’s National Cabinet and international advice.

It is important schools and early learning centres continue to adhere to their local COVID advice. Parents and guardians should check their contact details are up to date so they can be contacted easily, regularly check what restrictions are in place and, when unwell, get their child tested and stay at home.

In 2020, students and staff rapidly learned to regularly wash their hands, adapt to cleaners in the school throughout the day, socially distance and wear masks when required. These public health interventions, vaccination, and testing and tracing will remain the mainstay for the year ahead in Australia.

Monitoring well-being and building resilience will also be core educational activities in the months ahead.The Conversation

Asha Bowen, Head, Skin Health, Telethon Kids Institute; Archana Koirala, Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Specialist, University of Sydney; Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne; Kristine Macartney, Professor, Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney, and Margie Danchin, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stressed out, dropping out: COVID has taken its toll on uni students



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Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University; Kate McGuire, Griffith University, and Neeraj Gill, Griffith University

It’s a tough time to be a university student. Amid a global pandemic, overstretched mental health services and sweeping university staff cuts, students have had to attend classes and hand in assignments while juggling work, family and finances. For international students, isolation, cultural differences and extra expenses added to their worries.

Unsurprisingly, university enrolments have plummeted. While COVID-19 has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health – Beyond Blue reported a 66% increase in demand for its services in April compared to 2019 – it’s a massive concern for many young people. Yet tertiary students have been largely overlooked.




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To counter the looming mental health crisis and improve student retention, federal and state governments must respond to the needs of these students beyond spouting platitudes and advising them to exercise, drink water and think positively.

Under pressure before the pandemic

Here are the facts: about 60% of university students are aged between 15 and 24. Suicide is the leading cause of death in this age group. One in four young people experience depression or anxiety in any one year.

The average wait time for a first therapy session at a Headspace centre – a government-funded youth mental health program – is 25.5 days. Many don’t reach out at all because of the stigma surrounding mental health, privacy concerns, lack of time and financial constraints.




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And 2020 made life harder

Then COVID-19 struck.

This pandemic has increased youth unemployment, added to academic stress and made it harder for students to follow self-care routines – the daily habits that are vital to good mental health and well-being. More students than ever are at risk and the mental health system might not be able to cope.




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After COVID-19 restrictions took effect, the unemployment rate of students aged 15-24 who study full-time increased by up to 12% in June compared to 2019. Their participation rate – the proportion employed or actively looking for work – fell by 21% in May compared to 2019.

Financial pressures associated with job losses can increase the risk of mental health problems. Particularly at risk are international students who were excluded from JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments and isolated from their families and support networks. International students may also face challenges seeking assistance due to stigma, language and cultural barriers and financial issues.




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Challenges increased at uni too

Students have also had to adapt to online learning. Many universities still haven’t gone back to in-person classes. Online videos replaced lecture halls, despite students being told pre-COVID that attending in-person lectures was vital, with lower attendance linked to poorer results.

Some universities did adopt measures to help minimise the impact of COVID on student grades. Even so, the sweeping staff cuts at several universities will have impacts on learning outcomes.




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Academic success is harder to achieve than ever and the stakes are high, especially when you might be paying thousands of dollars per course. Bad grades reduce your future employability and repeating courses affects when you graduate.

Stay active, eat healthily and reach out when you need help is the traditional mental health advice doled out to first-year students. But in 2020, when the gyms closed and you couldn’t go out with your friends, it wasn’t that simple.

Isolated young woman staring out of window
Enforced social isolation made it hard for many students to follow the routines that maintain good mental health.
Adam Nieścioruk/Unsplash

Most universities do offer some mental health support services. However, these vary between institutions and were already overstretched before the pandemic. While a new framework released by youth mental health research centre Orygen is a promising start, it is yet to be implemented.

The support available to students can be overly reliant on self-help methods or involve long wait times. During COVID, many of these services have gone online, which raises concerns about efficacy and privacy.

Domestic students are eligible for a government-subsidised mental health plan, but the public system faces many of the same issues as university services. International students must pay the full cost.

With the challenges 2020 has thrown at students, it’s no surprise tertiary enrolments fell. Enrolments for 20-to-24-year-olds were down by 66,100 students from 2019. The loss of fee revenue has already undermined the university sector.

The implications for gender equity are also serious, as those who dropped out were overwhelmingly women.




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We can do more to help

So it is a tough time to be a university student, but does it have to be? Solutions have already been proposed. In June, a Productivity Commission inquiry report called for:

  • expanded online mental health services for tertiary students

  • increased data collection

  • greater support for international students

  • legislative amendments requiring all tertiary institutions to have a student mental health and well-being strategy.

In September, the Australian Human Rights Commission recommended:

  • more investment in youth-focused mental health services

  • more government support for educational institutions to deliver quality online learning

  • making youth employment a key focus of the economic recovery.

Other measures such as psychological support services on campus, university-run guidance programs, greater flexibility regarding workloads and reassurance that students won’t be discriminated against due to mental illness would also help.

If the government were to adopt any of these suggestions it would be a step in the right direction. However, despite the dire consequences of mishandling this issue, it remains to be seen whether the government will step up and support universities and the mental health of students.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Professor and Director of the Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith Business School, Griffith University; Kate McGuire, Research Assistant, Griffith University, and Neeraj Gill, Associate Professor and Clinical Lead, Mental Health, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Children may transmit coronavirus at the same rate as adults: what we now know about schools and COVID-19



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Zoë Hyde, University of Western Australia

The role children, and consequently schools, play in the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard to work out, but that puzzle is now finally starting to be solved.

The latest research shows infections in children frequently go undetected, and that children are just as susceptible as adults to infection. Children likely transmit the virus at a similar rate to adults as well.

While children are thankfully much less likely than adults to get seriously ill, the same isn’t true for the adults that care for them. Evidence suggests schools have been a driver of the second wave in Europe and elsewhere. This means the safety of schools needs an urgent rethink.

It’s hard to detect COVID-19 in children

Infections with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in children are generally much more mild than in adults and easy to overlook. A study from South Korea found the majority of children had symptoms mild enough to go unrecognised, and only 9% were diagnosed at the time of symptom onset.

Researchers used an antibody test (which can detect if a person had the virus previously and recovered) to screen a representative sample of nearly 12,000 children from the general population in Germany. They found the majority of cases in children had been missed. In itself, that’s not surprising, because many cases in adults are missed, too.

But what made this study important, was that it showed young and older children were similarly likely to have been infected.

Official testing in Germany had suggested young children were much less likely to be infected than teenagers, but this wasn’t true. Younger children with infections just weren’t getting tested. The study also found nearly half of infected children were asymptomatic. This is about twice what’s typically seen in adults.

But children do transmit the virus

We’ve known for a while that around the same amount of viral genetic material can be found in the nose and throat of both children and adults.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean children will transmit the same way adults do. Because children have a smaller lung capacity and are less likely to have symptoms, they might release less virus into the environment.

However, a new study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found children and adults were similarly likely to transmit the virus to their household contacts.

Another study, of more than 84,000 cases and their close contacts, in India found children and young adults were especially likely to transmit the virus.




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Most of the children in these studies likely had symptoms. So, it’s unclear if asymptomatic children transmit the virus in the same way.

But outbreaks in childcare centres have shown transmission by children who don’t show symptoms still occurs. During an outbreak at two childcare centres in Utah, asymptomatic children transmitted the virus to their family members, which resulted in the hospitalisation of one parent.

What we know about outbreaks in Australian schools

Schools didn’t appear to be a major driver of the epidemic in Victoria, although most students switched to remote learning around the peak of the second wave.

However, schools did contribute to community transmission to some extent. This was made clear by the Al-Taqwa College cluster, which was linked to outbreaks in Melbourne’s public housing towers.

When researchers analysed cases in Victorian schools that occurred between the start of the epidemic and the end of August 2020, they found infections in schools mirrored what was happening in the community overall. They also found 66% of all infections in schools were limited to a single person.




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A closed-school sign on the gate.
Most students in Victoria switched to remote learning at the peak of the second wave.
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This might seem encouraging, but we have to remember this virus is characterised by superspreading events. We now know that about 10% of infected people are responsible for about 80% of secondary COVID-19 cases.

Two major studies from Hong Kong and India revealed about 70% of people didn’t transmit the virus to anyone. The problem, is the remainder can potentially infect a lot of people.

What happened in Victorian schools was entirely consistent with this.

The risk associated with schools rises with the level of community transmission. The picture internationally has made this clear.

What we know about outbreaks in schools, internationally

After schools reopened in Montreal, Canada, school clusters quickly outnumbered those in workplaces and health-care settings combined. President of the Quebec Association of Infectious Disease Microbiologists, Karl Weiss, said

Schools were the driver to start the second wave in Quebec, although the government did not recognise it.

A report by Israel’s Ministry of Health concluded school reopening played at least some role in accelerating the epidemic there, and that schools may contribute to the spread of the virus unless community transmission is low. In the Czech Republic, a rapid surge in cases following the reopening of schools prompted the mayor of Prague to describe schools as “COVID trading exchanges”.

The opposite pattern has been seen when schools have closed. England just witnessed a drop in new cases, followed by a return to growth, coinciding with the half-term school holidays. This was before any lockdown measures were introduced in the country.

These observations are consistent with a study examining the effect of imposing and lifting different restrictions in 131 countries. Researchers found school closures were associated with a reduction in R — the measure of how fast the virus is spreading — while reopening schools was associated with an increase.

The risk has been spelled out most clearly by the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s equivalent of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last week, he reported the virus is being carried into schools, and also back out into the community.

What we need to do

It won’t be possible to control the pandemic if we don’t fully address transmission by children. This means we need to take a proactive approach to schools.

At a minimum, precautionary measures should include the use of face masks by staff and students (including primary school students). Schools should also improve ventilation and indoor air quality, reduce class sizes, and ensure kids and staff practise hand hygiene.

School closures have a role to play as well. But they must be carefully considered because of the harms associated with them. But these harms are likely outweighed by the harms of an unmitigated epidemic.




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In regions with high levels of community transmission, temporary school closures should be considered. While a lockdown without school closures can probably still reduce transmission, it is unlikely to be maximally effective.The Conversation

Zoë Hyde, Epidemiologist, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No one escaped COVID’s impacts, but big fall in tertiary enrolments was 80% women. Why?



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Brendan Churchill, University of Melbourne

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been so profound, particularly for women, that it threatens to upend the progress on gender equality in recent years. During the lockdown, women were doing more of the unpaid labour – care and housework. They were also more exposed to the risks of coronavirus either as essential workers or working in industries, such as retail, hospitality and accommodation services, that were forced to close.

There is evidence also of significant impacts on men’s labour force participation. In some cases men’s job losses early in the pandemic have not been recovered.

The impacts of COVID-19 on women and men extend beyond work and home to education, particularly tertiary education enrolments.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest data, 112,000 fewer students were enrolled in tertiary education in May 2020 – at the height of the first wave – compared to a year earlier. This is the largest drop in enrolments in over 15 years.

Like other aspects of COVID-19, the impact was gendered with a far greater decline among women. There were 86,000 fewer women enrolled to study in May 2020 than in May 2019, compared with just over 21,000 fewer men.

Big fall was for women over 25

What do these data tell us about COVID-19, education, work and potentially the future?

These data tell us COVID-19 has not only severely disrupted the lives of women in the workplace and the home, but also in education.




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The biggest decline in tertiary enrolments was among women over the age of 25: 60,000 fewer women over 25 were enrolled in university in May 2020 than in 2019.

This steep decline in enrolments is particularly surprising given Australia’s success in educating women and potentially puts the nation’s reputation at risk. Australia is ranked equal first in the world in terms of educational attainment for women, according the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. The country has been atop the list for well over a decade.

Juggling caring roles with study

These data remind us caring responsibilities not only affect careers or work-life balance, but also education. The sharp decline in female enrolments over the age of 25 suggests it was likely because of caring responsibilities.




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Many of these women with caring responsibilities, for either young children or older family members, were likely forced to make a choice between caring and studying. And for those combining work and study on top of family commitments, many elected not to continue studying.

Mother seated on floor and comforting baby while working at laptop
Many women have been forced to choose between family caring responsibilities and study.
Standsome Worklifestyle/Unsplash

For many mature-aged students (those over 21), undertaking study is challenge, especially for those combining study with work and/or care. Previous research has shown a number of gendered expectations are put upon mature-aged students and their time.

For many of these mature-age women who are combining work and study, they increasingly do it flexibly or online and schedule it around other commitments. Others give up their leisure time for learning.

COVID-19 made that near-impossible. The loss of both family and formal childcare increased the burden of unpaid work for women at home. It was extended far into the workday and into the evenings where mature-aged women might ordinarily find time to study.




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Enrolments rose for men over 25

The data also highlight the gendered complexities of COVID-19 on education. Women’s enrolments were disproportionately affected, whereas the data showed significant increases in men over the age of 25 enrolling in university in May 2020 compared with 2019. Male enrolments in this age group increased by about 26,000.

This increase suggests men were either “forced” into tertiary education because of a lack of opportunities, or it was a deliberate strategy on their part to upskill so they could be more competitive for jobs once the economy recovers. In this way, older age groups of men have shown themselves to be similar to young people who tend to go into education during times of recession. This is perhaps in contrast to previous recessionary periods where the participation rate of older men declined considerably.

All of this has implications for the future, particularly for women. These data are worrisome because, even though the returns from education for women are poor, many women obtain a number of qualifications just to get on an even keel with men in the labour market.

These latest trends might make it harder for women in the long run. However, it is worth noting these data capture enrolments at a point in time – during the first wave of the pandemic. Things might have changed significantly since then.The Conversation

Brendan Churchill, Research Fellow in Sociology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pandemic widens gap between government and Australians’ view of education



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Melissa A. Wheeler, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Swinburne University of Technology; Samuel Wilson, Swinburne University of Technology; Timothy Colin Bednall, Swinburne University of Technology, and Vlad Demsar, Swinburne University of Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing Australians’ view of public education, our analysis of Australian Leadership Index (ALI) data shows. In contrast to the government’s instrumental view of education, with its focus on producing “job-ready graduates”, the public now takes a wider view of education as a public good.

Public education, such as public schools and universities, is understood as serving the interests of the many, not the few. And the importance of ethics and accountability has only become more pronounced throughout the pandemic.




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The Australian Leadership Index has tracked public perceptions of leadership across a number of sectors, including public education, since 2018. We analysed ALI scores for public education through three periods – before COVID, first wave and second wave.

An intensifying debate about education

Since the pandemic began, debate about the role of education and its contribution to the public good has intensified. Universities have been at the centre of this debate.

Between January and March, before COVID-19 hit our shores, universities were in the public spotlight due to their reliance on international student fees.

In this period, the ALI score (our indexed measure of leadership) for public education dipped into the negative (-2) for the first time since we began tracking in September 2018.

During the first wave of COVID-19 (March-June), public discourse focused on the role of universities in finding a vaccine. At the same time, the exclusion of universities from the JobKeeper program forced them into cost-cutting, with implications for research output. More recently, news of wage theft in universities hit the headlines.




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As universities face losing 1 in 10 staff, COVID-driven cuts create 4 key risks


Despite these challenges, the ALI score for education recovered strongly. It hit a peak (+19) in the June quarter and stabilised in the September quarter (+15).

Education and the public good

Over the past few months, the federal government has brought in sweeping changes intended to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The stated aim is to produce “job-ready graduates” to fuel economic recovery.




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By contrast, our data show the Australian public takes a wider view of education.

Drawing on nationally representative surveys from September 2018 to September 2020, we statistically modelled how nine different factors have influenced public perceptions of leadership in education institutions.

We then plotted the importance of each factor (vertical axis) against the proportion of Australians who agree education is performing well on that factor (horizontal axis). The results show which factors are important in driving perceptions of education leadership, and also how the sector performs against them.

Vertical axis shows results of analysis that models impact of each of nine drivers on perceptions of leadership for the greater good. Horizontal axis shows proportion of Australians who believe education institutions show leadership for the greater good to a ‘fairly large’ or ‘extremely large’ extent. Mid points on each axis represent the average importance/performance across the nine drivers.
Australian Leadership Index, Author provided

Notably, Australians see accountability, ethicality and creating social value as highly important for education institutions. The sector performs well against these factors.

By contrast, responsiveness to the needs of society and creating economic value are also important, but the sector underperforms against these factors.

In short, Australians believe that how public education creates value – through demonstrable commitments to ethics and accountability – is as important as the type of value it creates. This reflects an understanding that serving the public interest is as much about process as it is about outcome.

Overall, these results suggests a marked discrepancy between how the government and Australians view public education.

How views changed through the pandemic

Our data (click on the table to enlarge it) show how Australians’ view of public education changed through the course of the pandemic.

In the period before COVID (January-March), the sector’s apparent accountability, responsiveness to society, and a focus on economic value creation had the most influence on perceptions of the sector’s leadership.

In the first wave (April-June), ethics and balancing the needs of different groups became more important. Accountability, economic value creation and responsiveness to societal needs were also important. Performance scores improved across all five factors.

This possibly reflects the optimistic discourse around vaccine research, producing job-ready graduates and an element of sympathy for universities, as university staff lost their jobs and international students were left to fend for themselves.




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In the second wave (July-September), the focus shifted away from the sector’s economic contributions and its responsiveness to society. Instead, ethics, accountability and balancing the needs of different groups became most important.

Performance scores for balancing the needs of different groups decreased. This possibly reflects the changes to tertiary education funding, which triggered backlash from both domestic and international students.

Rethinking the role of universities

Australians have important decisions to make on the role of public education. Rather than positioning public education and universities as a panacea for economic recovery, a wider view is required.

Universities are uniquely positioned to serve the public good. The purpose of education leadership itself has been described as being “as and for public good”. This insight is reflected in the actions of university benefactors, who are motivated by a belief in the public good that only universities can create.

Although philanthropic support is vital, it is in the national interest to properly fund universities to enable them to serve and enhance the public good as only universities can.The Conversation

Melissa A. Wheeler, Senior Lecturer, Department of Management and Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology; Samuel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Timothy Colin Bednall, Senior Lecturer in Management, Swinburne University of Technology, and Vlad Demsar, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is learning more important than well-being? Teachers told us how COVID highlighted ethical dilemmas at school



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Daniella J. Forster, University of Newcastle

As an educational ethicist, I research teachers’ ethical obligations. These can include their personal ethics such as protecting students from harm, respect for justice and truth, and professional norms like social conformity, collegial loyalty and personal well-being.

Moral tensions in schools can come about when certain categories of norms conflict with each other. For example, sometimes students’ best interests are pitted against available resources. These present difficult decisions for the teacher, the school community and its leaders.

As part of a global study on educational ethics during the pandemic, I conducted focus groups with Australian childcare, preschool, primary and secondary school teachers to find out what ethical issues were most pressing for them.

Below are three ways in which the pandemic highlighted existing tensions between ethical priorities.

1. Student well-being versus learning

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers emphasise student well-being is important to learning. But they note teachers’ main priority is making sure the student learns at their stage of the Australian National Curriculum.

During COVID, this flipped and well-being took precedence. A primary school teacher told me:

It’s the first time in my teaching career where the learning became a low priority, and well-being took over … if we could keep them chugging along, that was good enough.

An Aboriginal-identifying teacher who shared their strong cultural background with students said:

… a lot of the Aboriginal students … didn’t have access to … resources. And so there was already this disconnect that became even wider by the time they had to learn from home … Some students were not able to complete the work that I was putting on the online forum because they were caring for little brothers and sisters when they were at home … or home life was extremely volatile …

A secondary school teacher said:

There were certain students that we were made aware of by the well-being coordinators that we weren’t to make contact with. If there were more extenuating circumstances in the life of the child then we weren’t to … exacerbate that by sending emails home about them not completing work …

Some teachers found it particularly difficult to identify students at heightened risk and to put in place their duty of care requirements.




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A public primary school principal in a low socioeconomic area said:

We had a couple of instances where we would have had more contact with family, community services and since (then) we have heard stories of what happened when the children weren’t coming to school … we would have made an instant call to DOCS [Department of Community Services], but because we weren’t having that day to day contact we didn’t know. A lot of those things were hidden, very serious issues.

2. Government policy versus staff well-being

Leading teachers and principals found the tension between their personal safety and that of their colleagues were often in conflict with a lag in institutional directives.

Textbooks, a mask and sanitiser on a teacher's desk.
Education departments often put out instructions long after principals felt the safety of their staff was compromised.
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For instance, on March 25 The NSW Teachers’ Federation urged the education department to immediately prioritise the safety of staff and students.

But the department took time to mandate social distancing measures, school closures and learning from home. In the meantime principals were on alert for risk management, anticipating directives for extensive social distancing, such as cancelling school assemblies, before being instructed to do so.

One public school principal said:

The federation is telling us this. The department is telling us that … I would make a decision and then a couple of weeks later … the department would come up with the same strict instructions … it was the well-being of the staff first for me … even to the point where we sent the kids home for the first week with no learning … the second that one child comes to school and catches COVID, then I’m not going to be able to live with myself.




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But it wasn’t the same in all schools. A primary school teacher in a bushfire affected area reflected on the decisions made by the principal.

I’m trying to be diplomatic … We were very slow to engage with kids who were starting to be kept home from school. And we were very slow for teachers to be able to work from home and we were very quick to come back to … school … We have a parent who worked at the local high school saying, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve been working at home all week’. We haven’t even been told that’s a possibility …

3. Personal well-being versus professional integrity

A teacher’s professional integrity is how they evaluate the alignment between the expectations of their role and their values. When a schism arises, it throws into question some core professional values.

One public school principal’s integrity had an extremely high bar.

I’ll be really honest, despite all of the warnings and all of the advice, my own well-being was my last priority. And the ethical dilemma for me was, I can’t look after myself because I’ve got so many other people to look after first, despite all the warnings, despite all the advice.

Teachers reported the personal cost of changing work arrangements into remote settings, concerned about how they were to fulfil their professional integrity to provide the kind of meaningful interactions students needed.

A secondary Catholic school teacher said:

Remote learning really threw me off balance and I struggled to find myself and how I fit into that situation … I had to learn to let go and … work out what is really important.

For the next generation of teachers, the dilemma was more about how to set boundaries in an emerging professional identity.

One early career public secondary teacher said:

I did go out of my way to with my Year 11s, them being my most senior year … Which did bring up the ethical thing … there were times I would get a message at one o’clock and I’d be up but I’d say, I’m not answering that, I’m not looking at it. I’m looking at it in the morning. That’s too much in each other’s heads. And, yeah, the barriers were tough.

An experienced secondary teacher in an International Baccalaureate school said:

I was working sending emails at midnight, and getting up three hours before my lessons to try and make sure that the platform is working … and obviously all my lessons that I plan had to be then turned into online lessons. So that takes a whole other weekend for everything … I got WhatsApp messages at all hours …

She said students sent her emails to thank her for the commitment. She realised it was a toxic message to send, and that implied this should be the norm for teachers. While teaching is a generous profession, COVID highlighted the expectations on their generosity.




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‘Exhausted beyond measure’: what teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education


The Conversation


Daniella J. Forster, Senior Lecturer, Educational ethics and philosophies, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How creative use of technology may have helped save schooling during the pandemic



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Neil Selwyn, Monash University

It is estimated around half the world’s students’ schools remain shut down. All told, this has been a potentially damaging disruption to the education of a generation.

But one of the few positive outcomes from this experience is an opportunity to rethink how digital technologies can be used to support teaching and learning in schools.

Our collective experiences of remote schooling offer a fleeting opportunity for schools to think more imaginatively about what “digital education” might look like in the future.

This is not to echo the hype (currently being pushed by many education reformers and IT industry actors) that COVID will prove a tipping-point after which schools will be pushed fully into digital education.

On the contrary, the past six months of hastily implemented emergency remote schooling tell us little about how school systems might go fully virtual, or operate on a “blended” (part online, part face-to-face) basis. Any expectations of profiting from the complete digital reform of education is well wide of the mark.

Instead, the most compelling technology-related lessons to take from the pandemic involve the informal, improvised, scrappy digital practices that have helped teachers, students and parents get through school at home.

Technology during the pandemic

All over the world, school shutdowns have seen teachers, students and families get together to achieve great things with relatively simple technologies. This includes the surprising rise of TikTok as a source of informal learning content. Previously the domain of young content creators, remote schooling saw teachers of all ages turn to the video platform to share bite-size (up to one minute) chunks of teaching, give inspirational feedback, set learning challenges or simply show students and parents how they were coping.

TikTok also been used as a place for educational organisations, public figures and celebrity scientists to produce bespoke learning content, as well as allowing teachers to put together materials for a wider audience.

Even principals have used it to keep in contact with their school — making 60-second video addresses, motivational speeches and other alternatives to the traditional school assembly speech.

Classes in some countries have been run through WhatsApp, primarily because this was one platform most students and families had access to, and were used to using in their everyday lives.

Elsewhere, teachers have set up virtual BitMoji classrooms featuring colourful backdrops and cartoon avatars of themselves. These spaces act as a friendly online version of their familiar classroom space for students to check in and find out what they should be learning, access resources and temporarily feel they were back at school.




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Some teachers have worked out creative ways of Zoom-based teaching. These stretch beyond the streamed lecture format and include live demonstrations, experiments, and live music and pottery workshops.

Social media, apps and games have proven convenient places for teachers to share insights into their classroom practice, while students can quickly show teachers and classmates what they have been working on.

These informal uses of digital media have played an important role in boosting students, teachers and parents with a bit of human contact, and additional motivation to connect and learn.

So, what now?

All this will come as little surprise to long-term advocates of popular forms of digital media in education. There is a sound evidence base for the educational benefits of such technology.

For example, a decade’s worth of studies has developed a robust framework (and many examples) of how students and educators can make the most of personal digital media inside and outside the classroom. These include allowing students to participate in online fan-fiction writing communities, digital journalism, music production and podcasting.

The past ten years has also seen a rise in e-sports — where teams of young people compete in video games.

This stresses the interplay between digital media, learning driven by students’ interests and passions, and online communities of peers. Informal digital media can be a boon for otherwise marginalised and disadvantaged youth and allowing students to find supportive communities of like-minded peers regardless of their local circumstances.

Australia continues to be one of the few countries in the world where classroom use of smartphones is banned by some governments. Some of the most popular social media platforms, content creation apps, and open sites such as YouTube remain filtered and blocked in many schools too.




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At the same time, official forms of school technology are increasingly criticised for being boring, overly-standardised, and largely serving institutional imperatives, rather than pitched toward the interests of students and teachers.

Concerns are growing over the limited educational benefits of personalised learning systems, as well as the data and privacy implications of school platforms and systems such as Google Classroom.

The past six months have seen many schools forced to make the best of whatever technologies were immediately to hand. Previously reticent teachers now have first-hand experience of making use of unfamiliar technologies. Many parents are now on board with the educational potential of social media and games. Most importantly, students have been given a taste of what they can achieve with “their” own technology.

With US schools now exploring the benefits of establishing official TikTok creation clubs to enhance their video-making skills, it might be time for Australian educators to follow suit. Let’s take the opportunity to re-establish schools as places where teachers, students and families can work together to creatively learn with the devices and apps most familiar to their everyday lives.The Conversation

Neil Selwyn, Distinguished Research Professor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Year 12 exams in the time of COVID: 5 ways to support your child to stress less and do better



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Erin Mackenzie, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Western Sydney University

Year 12 exams can be stressful at the best of times; this is particularly true for the Class of 2020.

Here are five ways parents and carers of Year 12 students preparing for their final exams can support them.

1. Check in and listen

It is important to remember teenagers are often more resilient than we think. In most cases, they can cope well with challenges. But some students find exams more stressful than others, and some may also be worried about the influence of COVID on their future.

Research consistently shows parental monitoring that supports the autonomy of the young people is linked with their better psychological adjustment and performance during difficult times. This means checking-in with your teen, seeing how they are going and empowering them to use whatever coping skills they need.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, many parents use a high-monitoring low-autonomy style. Parents may still monitor their teen’s coping but also take over, hurry to suggest solutions, and criticise the strategies their child is trying.

This is a low-autonomy style, which may signal to the young person their parent doesn’t believe in their ability to cope.

So, to not come across as controlling or undermining their autonomy:

  • ask your teen, “How are you coping?”

  • listen to their answers

  • check you have understood and ask if they need your support.

  • Let your actions be guided by their response. If they say “I’m very stressed”, ask if there is something you can do. You could say: “Tell me what you need to do and we’ll work it out together”.

If they do the famous “I dunno”, say something like “OK, think about it, I’ll come back in a bit, and we can chat”. Follow through and let them know you will check in more regularly over the coming weeks.

2. Encourage them to take care of their physical and mental health

Support your teen to get exercise, downtime and sleep. Exercise helps produce endorphins — a feel-good chemical that can improve concentration and mental health.

Downtime that is relaxing and enjoyable such as reading, sport, hanging out with friends or video games, can also help young people recharge physically and mentally. If you see your Year 12 child studying for numerous hours without a break, encourage them to do something more fun for a while.

A change of scene can help avoid burnout and helps students maintain focus over longer periods of time.




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Good sleep is important for alertness, and teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours per day. Sleep also helps memory consolidation: a neural process in which the brain beds down what has been learnt that day.

Even short-term sleep deprivation, such as five hours across a week of study, can have a negative impact on teens’ mood, attention and memory.

To ensure your child priorises self-care, help them put together a routine. This may involve scheduling specific times for exercise, meals and downtime each day, and breaking up blocks of study time with short breaks.

Also negotiate a nominated time for them to turn their phone off at night. Stopping phone use one hour before bedtime can increase sleep.

3. Help them maintain connections

Connections with friends are critical for young people, especially during times of stress. Teens regularly talk about academic concerns online, and may use online support more when stressed. Research shows seeking support in person is more effective than doing so online, so try to encourage your teen to connect with friends in person if possible.

But also be aware of the risks. Talking with friends over and over about problems can actually make young people feel worse. Your son or daughter may find their friends are increasingly leaning on them for support too, which can exhaust their own emotional reserves.

Two girls sitting on swings and chatting.
Connections with friends are important for stress.
Unsplash, CC BY

Encourage your child to use time with friends as time away from studying. It’s OK to seek support from friends, but help your child think about when might be too much — and to have a balance of happy and serious conversations when they are together.

Encourage your child to continue talking to you and to ask their teachers for help with academic concerns.

4. Help your child understand their own brain

When asked, most young people report frequently using rehearsal — which involves simply going over textbooks, notes or other material — as a study technique. This is one of the least efficient memory strategies.

The more active the brain is when studying — by moving information around, connecting different types of information and making decisions — the more likely that information will be remembered. Active study sometimes feels harder, but this is great for memory.




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Encourage your child to study actively by making their own test questions, reorganising information into concept maps, or explaining the topics to you. It can also help to “intersperse” different study topics: the brain grows more connections that way. It also gets more practice reactivating the original material from memory.

5. Look out for warning signs

While most teens are resilient, some may more frequently report negative mood, uncertainties about the future or a loss of control. This is particularly true in 2020. You might hear evidence of “catastrophic thinking” (“what’s the point?” or “this is the worst thing ever”).

You can help by modelling hopeful attitudes and coping strategies. Reactive coping strategies are things like taking a break, selectively using distractions and going for a run to clear your head.




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Pair these with proactive coping strategies, which prevent or help manage stressful situations. These include helping the young person get organised and reminding them that if they don’t have life figured out right now, that’s OK. Help them see opportunities that come with challenges. These include self-development (learning what they like and don’t like), self-knowledge (knowing their limits and character strengths) and skill development (organisational and coping strategies).

Some teens may be struggling more than they let on. Look out for warning signs. These can include:

  • not participating in previously enjoyed activities

  • avoiding friends or partners

  • drastic changes in weight, eating or sleeping

  • irritability over minor things

  • preoccupation with death or expressing how difficult it is to be alive.

If these behaviours occur most of the time you are with them or seem out of character, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is particularly so if your teen has a history of mental health concerns.

Some resources that may help if you are worried include Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 and Headspace

Your GP can also help to connect your teen with a suitably qualified professional.The Conversation

Erin Mackenzie, Lecturer in Education, Western Sydney University; Penny Van Bergen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, Macquarie University, and Roberto H Parada, Senior Lecturer In Adolescent Development, Behaviour, Well-Being & Paedagogical Studies, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare



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Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

At the weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced all the state’s primary school kids would return to school for Term 4. This is an update from the previously planned staggered return to primary school, which would begin only with students in the early years — prep (first year) to Year 2.

The change was informed by our analysis of Victorian health and education department data on all cases and contacts linked to outbreaks at schools and early childhood education and care services (childcare and preschool).

We included data between January 25 (the date of the first known case in Victoria) and August 31.

Our analysis found children younger than 13 seem to transmit the virus less than teenagers and adults. In instances where the first case in a school was a child under 13, a subsequent outbreak (two or more cases) was uncommon. This finding played a key role in helping make the decision for primary school children to return to school.

Here is what else we found.

1. Outbreaks in childcare and schools are driven by community transmission

Infections linked to childcare, preschools and schools peaked when community transmission was highest in July, and declined in August. In addition, they were most common in the geographical areas where community transmission was also high.

This suggests infections in childcare, preschools and schools are driven primarily by transmission in the broader community. Controlling community transmission is key to preventing school outbreaks.

2. School infections are much lower than in the community

There were 1,635 infections linked with childcare, preschools and schools out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria (between January 25 and August 31).

Of 1 million students enrolled in all Victorian schools, 337 may have acquired the virus through outbreaks at school.




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Of 139 staff and 373 students who may have acquired infection through outbreaks at childcare, preschools or schools, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital, and all recovered.

The infections in childcare, preschools and schools were very rarely linked to infections in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

3. Most infections in schools and childcare centres were well contained

Of all the outbreaks in Victorian childcare centres, preschools and schools, 66% involved only a single infection in a staff member or student and did not progress to an outbreak. And 91% involved fewer than ten cases.

Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of a notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak.

The majority of infections in childcare, preschools and schools were well contained with existing controls and rapid closure (within two days), contact tracing and cleaning.




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4. Households are the main source of infection, not schools

The investigations of cases identified in schools suggest child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon, and not the primary cause of infection in children. Household transmission has been consistently found to be the most common source of infection for children.

Closing schools should be a last resort

Based on our findings and a review of the international literature, we recommend prioritising childcare centres, preschools and schools to reopen and stay open to guarantee equitable learning environments — and to lessen the effects of school closures.

Children do transmit the virus and outbreaks can occur. But based on the international literature, this mostly happens when there are high rates of community transmission and a lack of adherence to mitigation measures (such as social distancing) at the school or childcare centre.

Childcare centres, preschools and schools play a critical role not only in providing education, but also offering additional support for vulnerable students.

With childcare centres and schools being closed, along with the additional economic and psychological stress on families, family conflict and violence has increased. This has led to many children and young people feeling unsafe and left behind in their education and suffering mental-health conditions.

Closing all schools as part of large-scale restrictions should be a last resort. This is especially the case for childcare centres, preschools and primary schools, as children in these age groups are less likely to transmit the virus, and be associated with an outbreak.

Now that community transmission in Victoria is so low, it’s time for all kids to go back to school.




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The authors would like to thank their advisory committee from the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services. They would also like to thank outbreak epidemiologists at the DHHS and medical students Alastair Weng, Angela Zhu, Anthea Tsatsaronis, Benjamin Watson, Julian Loo Yong Kee, Natalie Commins, Nicholas Wu, Renee Cocks, Timothy O’Hare, and research assistant Kanwal Saleem, and Belle Overmars.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Professor, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, Epidemiologist, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.