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.

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.

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.

Children might play a bigger role in COVID transmission than first thought. Schools must prepare



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Zoë Hyde, University of Western Australia

Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation made an announcement you might have missed.

It recommended children aged 12 years and older should wear masks, and that masks should be considered for those aged 6-11 years. The German Society for Virology went further, recommending masks be worn by all children attending school.

This seems at odds with what we assumed about kids and COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, one positive in this pandemic so far has been that children who contract the virus typically experience mild illness. Most children don’t require hospitalisation and very few die from the disease. However, some children can develop a severe inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, although this is thankfully rare.

This generally mild picture has contributed to cases in children being overlooked. But emerging evidence suggests children might play a bigger role in transmission than originally thought. They may be equally as infectious as adults based on the amount of viral genetic material found in swabs, and we have seen large school clusters emerge in Australia and around the world.

How likely are children to be infected?

Working out how susceptible children are has been difficult. Pre-emptive school closures occurred in many countries, removing opportunities for the virus to circulate in younger age groups. Children have also missed out on testing because they typically have mild symptoms. In Australia, testing criteria were initially very restrictive. People had to have a fever or a cough to be tested, which children don’t always have. This hindered our ability to detect cases in children, and created a perception children weren’t commonly infected.

One way to address this issue is through antibody testing, which can detect evidence of past infection. A study of over 60,000 people in Spain found 3.4% of children and teenagers had antibodies to the virus, compared with 4.4% to 6.0% of adults. But Spain’s schools were also closed, which likely reduced children’s exposure.

Another method is to look at what happens to people living in the same household as a known case. The results of these studies are mixed. Some have suggested a lower risk for children, while others have suggested children and adults are at equal risk.

Children might have some protection compared to adults, because they have less of the enzyme which the virus uses to enter the body. So, given the same short exposure, a child might be less likely to be infected than an adult. But prolonged contact probably makes any such advantage moot.

The way in which children and adults interact in the household might explain the differences seen in some studies. This is supported by a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and partners of a known case were more likely to be infected than other people living in the same house. This suggests the amount of close, prolonged contact may ultimately be the deciding factor.

How often do children transmit the virus?

Several studies show children and adults have similar amounts of viral RNA in their nose and throat. This suggests children and adults are equally infectious, although it’s possible children transmit the virus slightly less often than adults in practice. Because children are physically smaller and generally have more mild symptoms, they might release less of the virus.

In Italy, researchers looked at what happened to people who’d been in contact with infected children, and found the contacts of children were more likely to be infected than the contacts of adults with the virus.

Teenagers are of course closer to adults, and it’s possible younger children might be less likely to transmit the virus than older children. However, reports of outbreaks in childcare centres and primary schools suggest there’s still some risk.

What have we seen in schools?

Large clusters have been reported in schools around the world, most notably in Israel. There, an outbreak in a high school affected at least 153 students, 25 staff members, and 87 others. Interestingly, that particular outbreak coincided with an extreme heatwave where students were granted an exemption from having to wear face masks, and air conditioning was used continuously.

At first glance, the Australian experience seems to suggest a small role for children in transmission. A study of COVID-19 in educational settings in New South Wales in the first half of the year found limited evidence of transmission, although a large outbreak was noted to have occurred in a childcare centre.

This might seem reassuring, but it’s important to remember the majority of cases in Australia were acquired overseas at the time of the study, and there was limited community transmission. Also, schools switched to distance learning during the study, after which school attendance dropped to 5%. This suggests school safety is dependent on the level of community transmission.

Additionally, we shouldn’t be reassured by examples where children have not transmitted the virus to others. Approximately 80% of secondary COVID-19 cases are generated by only 10% of people. There are also many examples where adults haven’t transmitted the virus.

As community transmission has grown in Victoria, so has the significance of school clusters. The Al-Taqwa College outbreak remains one of Australia’s largest clusters. Importantly, the outbreak there has been linked to other clusters in Melbourne, including a major outbreak in the city’s public housing towers.

Close schools when community transmission is high

This evidence means we need to take a precautionary approach. When community transmission is low, face-to-face teaching is probably low-risk. But schools should switch to distance learning during periods of sustained community transmission. If we fail to address the risk of school outbreaks, they can spread into the wider community.

While most children won’t become severely ill if they contract the virus, the same cannot be said for their adult family members or their teachers. In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.

Children walk to school with masks
In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.
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Recent recommendations on mask-wearing by older and younger children mirror risk-reduction guidelines for schools developed by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. These guidelines stress the importance of face masks, improving ventilation, and the regular disinfection of shared surfaces.

The changing landscape

As the virus has spread more widely, the demographic profile of cases has changed. The virus is no longer confined to adult travellers and their contacts, and children are now commonly infected. In Germany, the proportion of children in the number of new infections is now consistent with their share of the total population.

While children are thankfully much less likely to experience severe illness than adults, we must consider who children have contact with and how they can contribute to community transmission. Unless we do, we won’t succeed in controlling the pandemic.The Conversation

Zoë Hyde, Senior Research Officer, University of Western Australia

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

Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind



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Sarah Prestridge, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Griffith University

In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.

The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.

From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.




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So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?

Setting up Year 12s for further learning

Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.

The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.

In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.

This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.




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The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.

Year 12s like learning independently

We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.

Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.

Younger students find remote learning more stressful than do Year 12s.
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Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.

Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.

Is online learning inferior to face to face?

Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.

Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.

But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.




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Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.

A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.

However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.

Tips for Year 12 students

There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.

Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.




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To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:

  • organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax

  • be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials

  • contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together

  • use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about

  • participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.


Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.The Conversation

Sarah Prestridge, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Educational and Professional Studies, Griffith University

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

Will school temperature checks curb the spread of coronavirus?



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Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This week, most students in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire returned to remote learning for term 3.

Students whose parents can’t work from home are allowed to receive remote learning from school, as was the case during the first lockdown.

But this time, students in years 11 and 12, students in year 10 undertaking VCE or the applied learning equivalent, and specialist school students, are attending school for face-to-face learning.

This move recognises older students are more likely to be able to social distance than younger students, ensures senior students are supported during their VCE, and acknowledges the particular difficulties of remote learning for students with special needs.

In announcing this new model, the Victorian government also revealed daily temperature checks would be introduced for all students attending school face-to-face in term 3.




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The details

The Victorian government pledged to supply schools in Melbourne, Mitchell Shire and surrounding areas with more than 14,000 non-contact infrared thermometers. These are the type of thermometer positioned from a distance, generally towards a person’s forehead, to take their temperature.

In the case a student records a temperature of 37.5℃ or above, the school will contact the student’s parent or guardian to take the child home, and encourage them get a COVID-19 test.

While some Victorian students are back at school, most are learning from home again.
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The temperature checks are designed to detect fever as an indicator of possible SARS-CoV-2 infection. But there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind when considering how useful temperature checks will be.

First, these types of thermometers won’t always reliably detect fever. And second, many children with COVID-19 won’t have a fever.

Sensitivity and specificity

A few key features are important when screening for disease. In the case of non-contact infrared thermometers, the “disease” we’re screening for is fever.

First, a tool should be able to correctly identify those with the disease (sensitivity). Second, a tool should correctly identify those without the disease (specificity). Third, a tool should have high probability that a person with a positive result does have the disease (positive predictive value, or PPV).

Testing of non-contact infrared thermometers has reported wide variation on each of these measures. One review found sensitivity ranged from 4%-89.6% and specificity from 75.4%-99.6%. Where one in 100 people had a fever, the PPV was between 3.55%-65.4%.




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Non-contact infrared thermometers measure skin (peripheral) temperature without physical contact, which offers a convenient option for temperature checking large numbers of children.

But their readings can be affected by factors such as outdoor temperature, where on the body you aim the thermometer, and distance from the subject.

We also need to remember fever reducing medications, such as paracetamol, can lower a child’s temperature.

Combined, these factors indicate non-contact infrared thermometers may not be very reliable in detecting a fever (regardless of whether or not the fever is related to COVID-19).

Do children with COVID-19 have fever?

A review of studies found fever was the most common symptom in children and young people under 21 with COVID-19, recorded in 47% of cases. Other symptoms include cough (37%) and diarrhoea (4%).

Two reviews explored asymptomatic infection in children, reporting 14% and 19% of children had no symptoms at all.

This means fever screening may miss more than half of infected children in schools, as they could either have no symptoms, have symptoms that don’t include fever, or have fever not detected by the non-contact infrared thermometers.

Schools in other countries are also checking students’ temperatures.
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Do children transmit COVID-19 in schools?

Initial reports suggested children don’t transmit SARS-CoV-2 as much as adults, however evidence in this space is still evolving.

A NSW government report found no student-to-teacher transmission and very low student-to-student transmission.

Conversely, one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks to date occurred at a P-12 school; staff, students, and close contacts have tested positive. But it’s not yet clear how much transmission can be attributed to school activities as opposed to household and community transmission.




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A recent study from South Korea found within the home, ten to 19-year-old children transmit the virus as much as adults, whereas children aged under ten transmit less than adults.

While this paper focused on household transmission, a recent study from Israel reported on an outbreak in a secondary school. It found overcrowded classrooms, lack of mask wearing and air conditioning use were likely to be contributing factors.

Schools around the world

Among countries that have now returned to school, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have implemented fever screening.

France, Belgium, Germany and Israel have differing requirements for use of face masks among students and teachers.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends parents check their child’s temperature before or upon arrival at school.




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Yes, we’ve seen schools close. But the evidence still shows kids are unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus


The use of non-contact infrared thermometers to identify children who could have COVID-19 may not be reliable.

But at the very least, this tool provides a visible important reminder to parents, staff and students of the risk of COVID-19, and for children to remain at home if they’re unwell.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

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

School is important, and so is staying safe from coronavirus. Here are some tips for returning seniors



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Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian senior students returned to school this week, as did those in specialist schools. This follows substantial community transmission of COVID-19, and stage three restrictions, in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

Although senior and specialist school students in the restricted areas are going back to class, government school students in prep to Year 10 (except those doing VCE subjects) will learn remotely for term three.




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Whether schools close or remain open has been one of the more contentious aspects of this pandemic.

The Australian government previously signalled a lack of sustained and widespread community transmission meant it was more important for children to attend school than stay at home. But the situation has now changed, in Victoria at least.

That state recorded 270 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, with 147 linked to an outbreak at Al-Taqwa College. Almost all the new cases come from community transmission.

For returning seniors and teachers, it’s important to remember no single measure in isolation prevents disease transmission. It is a matter of reducing the likelihood and enhancing the capacity of the system to deal with events that occur.

School closures have consequences

Most of our evidence on the effectiveness of school closures comes from influenza research. Closing schools has been shown to reduce the speed and extent of influenza spread. This measure won’t be effective in isolation, though, and must be complemented by social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene.

But SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is different to influenza. Children are less likely to become infected and less likely to become seriously ill.

A recently reported German study suggests fewer than 1% of children and teachers had contracted the disease at school. Other analysis has not shown significant benefit from closing schools, even in communities with widespread community transmission.




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Yes, we’ve seen schools close. But the evidence still shows kids are unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus


That doesn’t mean transmission cannot occur among teachers and students, as we have seen with several outbreaks in Australian schools.

It is just that schools are not the disease incubators they would be with influenza or rhinovirus (which causes the common cold). This means transmission is not as likely in schools as it appears to be among adults.

The Victorian government has indicated Year 11 and 12 students – and those in Year 10 studying for the VCE – should return to school, and special schools should remain open, even in areas under restrictions. But universities, TAFE and adult education must continue online.

Wearing a mask isn’t harmful, and it does offer some protection.
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Even though senior students may have a similar transmission as adults, the logic is that educational and social disadvantage faced by senior students outweighs the risk of disease transmission.

And older students should also be able to understand the importance of health protection strategies and cooperate more readily than younger children can.

They are at a critical stage of their education, where lost access to education for a prolonged period may have longer life implications.

The unique social and personal support offered by special schools may also outweigh the COVID-19 risks.

Meanwhile, adults in higher education institutions usually have alternatives to allow them to continue their education.

So, what should schools do?

Victorian schools need to adhere to enhanced public health protections — this is understandably challenging for principals and teachers.

Whatever the schools can do will help reduce risk — it is not necessary to do everything, if not possible.




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Managing fewer classes by only having senior students and children of essential workers on campus may help schools maximise screening, social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene measures.

Teachers and students who may be at greater risk if they contract this disease, including older teachers and those with chronic illness, should isolate themselves if possible.

The Victorian government has provided guidelines for schools but these contain quite a lot of varied information which could be confusing for staff and parents.

There are five key principles for risk mitigation in schools

1. Maintain a high level of awareness of COVID-19 transmission

This should be done through standard and consistent communication to staff, parents and students.

2. Stop infected people from attending school

Parents, students and staff should be required to stay away from the school if they are infected or have been exposed to someone with the disease.

Schools should screen people on arrival, including, if possible, temperature screening either on arrival or at first class, dependent on the circumstances of the school. Anyone with symptoms or a temperature should be removed immediately and quarantined.

The Victorian government has promised more than 14,000 non-contact thermometers for government, independent and Catholic schools in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and to schools in neighbouring areas that need them.

3. Implement a practical level of social distancing

Mass gatherings, assemblies and functions should be avoided, arrival and departure times staggered. Break times should also be staggered and students spread out during them.

5. Maintain hygiene

Students and teachers should wash or sanitise their hands on arrival, before and after breaks and before departure.

Everyone should consider using face masks where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport. Masks are not harmful, but they do not necessarily protect from COVID-19, so they can’t be completely relied on. They are just one measure of reducing risk.

High traffic areas must be subject to enhanced cleaning and environmental hygiene practices.

No single measure is critical and there are no guarantees, but together, reasonable approaches will reduce risk and offer increased protection.The Conversation

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

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

Yes, we’ve seen schools close. But the evidence still shows kids are unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus


Allen Cheng, Monash University

Brunswick East Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School in Melbourne have temporarily shut down after children from both schools tested positive to COVID-19, while a confirmed case in a year 2 student led to the closure of Sydney’s Lane Cove West Public School. A childcare centre in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon has also closed for cleaning after a child tested positive.

These cases, and others in young children, follow a handful of positive cases in teenage students in Sydney and Melbourne and may be prompting some to wonder whether it’s time to rethink reopening schools after lockdown.

The short answer is: no. The research still suggests that while children can be infected with COVID-19, it is uncommon. They also don’t seem to pass the disease on as efficiently as adults do, and cases of child-to-child infection are uncommon. And when children do get infected, they don’t seem to get very sick.

The temporary closure of schools (and at least one childcare centre) is evidence the system is working as it should — cases are being identified, contact tracing and deep cleans are underway and every effort is made to limit the spread.




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What we know about children and coronavirus

We still don’t know exactly why COVID-19 is much more common in adults than children. The COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) infects people by attaching itself to a receptor called the ACE2 enzyme, and differences in this receptor in children may be one reason why children are less susceptible.

A lot of the thinking around schools and COVID-19 in Australia is based on follow up of school cases by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). It was released in April but still reflects what is currently known about the virus and how it interacts with children and school settings.

The report found:

In NSW, from March to mid-April 2020, 18 individuals (9 students and 9 staff) from 15 schools were confirmed as COVID-19 cases; all of these individuals had an opportunity to transmit the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) to others in their schools.

  • 735 students and 128 staff were close contacts of these initial 18 cases
  • no teacher or staff member contracted COVID-19 from any of the initial school cases
  • one child from a primary school and one child from a high school may have contracted COVID-19 from the initial cases at their schools.

Data from the Netherlands also found “children play a minor role in the spread of the novel coronavirus”.

In younger children, a rare but severe complication called PIMS-TS has been described. However, these cases have occurred in areas where there is extremely high transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

A bigger concern around schools is how adults congregate. Schools now have some version of physical distancing in the staff room and on school grounds to limit the risk of transmission between adults. Parents are asked not to enter school grounds or congregate in close quarters at the school gate, although the fact that this is outdoors and not a long period of contact also helps reduce the risk.

What about COVID-19 and high school students?

There have been several reports of cases in high schools both in Australia and abroad.

Older children in high school start to have similar risk to adults, although the risk of complications is still substantially lower than in the elderly. Importantly, kids in this age group are more able to physically distance and adhere to personal hygiene measures than primary school-aged kids.

At least one instance of a high school outbreak in Auckland was related to an event outside the classroom at which many adults were present. So it was less about transmission in the classroom and more related to a particular event.




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The system is working

It’s important that schools remain open. But precautions are still required: teaching children to maintain personal hygiene, enhanced cleaning, and making sure adults (teachers and parents) are appropriately distanced from each other.

The latest school cases are not unexpected, and don’t mean that school closures across the board are required. They show the system is working as it should — we are spotting cases early and intervening quickly to limit the spread.

When we do find COVID-19 cases in children, we don’t usually find cases of child-to-child transmission. But of course, we still need to go through the process of managing each case as it arises.

If there are ongoing cases in the community, it is likely that cases will continue to occur in students or teachers, and schools will need to have contingency plans for this.




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Parents need to make sure their children are well before sending them to school, and be prepared to get them tested and to keep them at home if they show any sign of illness. And of course, hammer home the message about hand washing.

Hand washing and physical distancing remain the very best things we can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.The Conversation

Allen Cheng, Professor in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, Monash University

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

Sending children back to school during coronavirus has human rights implications



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Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, University of Newcastle

Debates about a return to classroom learning in Australia are fraught, and parents have mixed feelings as to what may be best for their children.

This confusion is likely influenced by a sense of mixed messages from different approaches around the country.

For example, term 2 began this week in New South Wales. From week 3, children in government schools have been allocated a day per week when they should learn on site. In Western Australia, parents have been asked to decide if their children will return to the classroom, learn online from home or learn from home with hard copy materials. The situation in both states is to be reviewed around week 3.

In contrast, all Victorian students who can learn from home must do so. The ACT is also proceeding with online learning for all children who can be supervised at home.

Human rights relevant to schooling

Australia lacks a comprehensive human rights framework, although human rights laws have been passed in the ACT, Victoria and Queensland. Little commentary to date has considered the return to school in a human rights context.

Human rights are interconnected values. Many are relevant to this issue and the pandemic more broadly.

Under international law, all people have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The right to health extends beyond access to health care. Importantly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it includes a right to the prevention, treatment and control of disease.

All people, and particularly children, also have a right to education. This right is described as essential for people to participate effectively in a free society. Countries are obliged to protect the right by ensuring, at a minimum, free and compulsory primary education and a system of schools to provide equitable access to education at each level.

International law also confirms the right of all people not only to work, but to enjoy just and favourable conditions of work. This includes a right to safe and healthy working conditions.

Human rights issues arising from a return to the classroom

How can we balance human rights implications of a return to classroom learning, when rights may come into tension with each other?

Most human rights can be constrained, although not to the point where their essence is denied. Limitations on rights must be necessary in response to a pressing public or social need. They must also pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim.

When we consider rights in tension at this time, it is clear a right to health must be the primary focus. A weakening of protective measures may heighten the risk of a second wave of the virus.

A return to classroom learning should be made in consideration of the rights of both staff and children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Australian parents and school staff are being encouraged to view schools as safe environments.

However, the advice for those who are at risk continues to be to stay at home. While some jurisdictions are moving to require in-person attendance, little has been said about how at-risk staff and students are to be protected at school or supported to continue in isolation.

Aspects of a return to school also pose mental health risks. Some students who require set daily routines may become anxious when required to attend only one day per week. Others, especially high school students in their final year, should perhaps be prioritised to return as a cohort in order to complete their education.

For teachers, there are significant workload implications in managing both in-class and online cohorts of students. The right of teachers to enjoy good mental health may also be compromised by a sense of risk in the return to classroom teaching. The potential for stress-related illnesses is obvious among parents, many of whom have found learning from home taxing on their mental health.

There is a widespread desire to support the right of students to education. Schools in Australia have mostly remained open throughout the peak of the crisis for children of essential workers and children who are safer at school than at home. This approach was a measured means of balancing rights to health and education and could be maintained for a longer period across the country.

It has been argued here that the “staggered” return to school in some states ought to prioritise the needs of children at certain key stages of learning.

We add that the most vulnerable children should also be prioritised. For example, greater equity in access to education at this time may call for special arrangements to include students with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental health conditions. Students who lack at-home access to online learning could also be prioritised in a return to the classroom.

The physical environment in schools is a further complicating factor, particularly in terms of teachers’ rights to safe conditions of work. The prime minister is adamant schools are exempt from social-distancing requirements. Yet those states returning students to the classroom are implicitly undermining that message by setting maximum numbers and requiring staggered break times and other measures.

Many teachers feel confused and stressed about how they can do their work safely. This is unsurprising, given some states and other countries are taking much more cautious approaches to the health and safety of school staff.

No magic right answer

The balancing process between human rights values at this time is highly complex and beyond what we can hope to resolve in this article. And human rights analyses cannot deliver us a simple “right” answer as to how the return to classroom learning should be managed.

What human rights give us is another frame through which to consider these fundamental challenges. There are obvious economic and educational imperatives to prompt a return to classroom learning. Our national debate could be richer and more inclusive if it also included human rights claims.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor in Human Rights and International Law, University of Newcastle and Donna McNamara, Lecturer in Law, University of Newcastle

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

If COVID-19 is a national emergency, can the federal government take control of schools?


Matt Harvey, Victoria University

The federal government this week offered independent schools across the country an advance of A$3 billion if they committed to having at least half their students back in the classroom by June 1.

In the case of some states, particularly Victoria, this instruction is in direct contrast to that of the premiers. Victorian schools, following advice from the state’s Chief Health Officer, are committed to online learning for term two with children only attending schools if they have to, such as if their parents are essential workers.

Victoria’s education minister James Merlino has said the federal government is “forcing” independent schools to undermine the state’s strategy. In regard to schools, he said:

Let me be very clear, particularly to the federal government who do not run any schools, we will only transition back to face-to-face teaching for all students when that is the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

The federal government has consistently maintained the position it is safe for schools to remain open.

The federal government funds independent schools, and the state is in charge of public schools. But beyond these arrangements, is there anything in the Australian Constitution that might give the Commonwealth control over schools in a national emergency situation like the case of a pandemic?

What the Constitution allows the Commonwealth

The Australian Constitution was written in the 1890s and came into effect in 1901. It predates the first world war and the influenza pandemic that followed it.

There is no general emergency power, but it does give the Commonwealth power over “the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth” (s51(vi)). This power was used extensively in both world wars to control many aspects of life from curfews to bread prices.

The Commonwealth also has control of quarantine under s51(ix), but there is no mention of health or education – or indeed the economy – though there are some commercial powers such as over foreign, trading and financial corporations (s51(xx)).

There is a power under s51(xxiiiA) to provide benefits to students and others and for health and medical purposes.

How the Commonwealth can control the states

The Commonwealth and states have done a pretty good job of cooperating so far. The National Cabinet of Commonwealth ministers and state premiers (a concept not found in the Constitution) has made joint decisions on the public health response.

But the messaging on schools has been inconsistent with the federal government claiming it’s safe, while some premiers have taken their own route and transitioned to online learning.




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Legally and constitutionally the Commonwealth can’t force schools to open. The fact it has attempted to induce independent schools to reopen by bringing forward a payment highlights that the Commonwealth’s involvement in education, as in so many areas, is through the power of the purse.

The Commonwealth has an almost unlimited power of taxation under s51(ii), together with its power under s96 to make grants to states “on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit”.

This reached an extreme in the Howard era when the Commonwealth made a payment to state schools conditional on them having at least an hour of physical education per week, and a flagpole.

To be allowed to operate, all schools must be registered with the respective school registration authority in each state or territory, which means states have jurisdiction over school operations. So, if Victoria or any other state decides to compel schools in the state to remain closed (or reopen), it has the power to do so.

What about in an emergency situation?

The Commonwealth’s power to act in an emergency was tested in the global financial crisis of 2008-10 when the Rudd government sent out a “Tax Bonus” payment to all taxpayers. This was challenged by constitutional law lecturer Bryan Pape as going beyond Commonwealth power.

The High Court, in Pape v Commissioner of Taxation, agreed the tax bonus was not authorised by the taxation power, but accepted that there was a global emergency and the payment was in response to it.

Chief Justice French wrote:

The executive power of the Commonwealth conferred by s61 of the Constitution extends to the power to expend public moneys for the purpose of avoiding or mitigating the large scale adverse effects of the circumstances affecting the national economy […]

Could the Commonwealth claim we are in a national emergency and kids must go back to school? That would be harder to argue than that they should stay home to avoid the virus. It would also be hard for the Commonwealth to argue that an economic imperative trumps a state’s judgement about what is safe for the community.




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In the case of Rudd’s tax bonus, the Commonwealth was trying to send every taxpayer a cheque. That is a rather different matter to forcing taxpayers to send their children to school, especially against the wishes of the state.

Let’s hope the Commonwealth and states can reach agreement on this and together get the risk of transmission down to a level we can all accept.The Conversation

Matt Harvey, Lecturer in Law, Victoria University

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