After the holidays: back to school - but how?

The new school year began in almost all European countries in the last few weeks. Everywhere there were fierce debates about whether and to what extent schools could go back to normal despite the pandemic. Europe's commentators reflect on a far from smooth return to school.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

A paradox of the pandemic

Next Monday Italy's children return to school for the first time since the lockdown. Fear is outweighing the anticipation, observes Corriere della Sera:

“As of Monday the staff at schools will be on the front line. And along with them eight million pupils on whom the stigma of asyptomatic infection rests will be subjected to a psychological burden that is not necessarily made lighter by the knowledge that they could transmit the virus to parents and grandparents. ... Although we have so far been able to keep a safe distance, from Monday onwards this will be much more difficult, if not impossible. ... Another paradox of the pandemic: schools must be reopened because they are the connective tissue of society, but it is precisely because they are the connective tissue of society that we are so afraid to open them again.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Okay to party but not to enjoy first day at school?

The Tages-Anzeiger argues that rules banning parents from accompanying their children to school on the first day at some Swiss schools and kindergartens doesn't make sense:

“In clubs and elsewhere, crowds of up to 1,000 people are allowed to gather. Yet when it comes to kindergarten and first-graders, the Swiss coronavirus rules, which are pretty relaxed by international standards, are being driven by hard-hearted overanxiety in certain places? This policy is also misguided because compromises could easily be found to minimise the risk: if only one parent accompanies the child, masks are made compulsory for adults and windows are left open to reduce the concentration of potentially infectious aerosols.”

Denik (CZ) /

Time to show true grit

For Deník, tightening measures would be counterproductive, also with an eye to the start of the new school year:

“The number of new cases is increasing, but not the number of hospital stays, to say nothing of the number of serious cases. Most people who test positive have mild symptoms or none at all. When we introduced the most drastic restrictions in Europe in March, we were criticised and ridiculed. However, some time later the other countries followed suit. Now we could set an example of courage. What's more, in March people toed the line and accepted the curtailing of freedoms because they believed it was necessary to save lives. But unnecessary bans only provoke people and fuel protests.”

Lapin Kansa (FI) /

Fear of cuts and austerity

For Lapin Kansa, the start of the school year in Finland is is fraught with difficulties:

“Towns and cities were struggling financially even before the corona crisis. Now many are considering reforming the school system. And closing schools isn't the only way they're trying to get their finances under control. According to the Trade Union of Education in Finland, no fewer than 49 municipalities plan to fire teachers or put them on furlough. ... In addition to the economic problems, corona is casting a long shadow over school attendance. One gets the feeling that there is an extraordinary number of major problems right now.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Normal operation is irresponsible

Deutschlandfunk is appalled that some politicians are considering having Germany's schools operate as they did before Covid-19:

“The entire coronavirus management strategy, which has been considered exemplary in this country up to now, could be put at risk within just a few weeks. ... Many teachers and parents are quite rightly unsettled and annoyed. The risk we are taking in these days when children are going back to school is incalculable. ... It would be strongly advisable to keep the rules from the pre-holiday period in place: half of the class is present for lessons, the other half learns online. This could reduce the risk of infection, also for the teachers whose risk of infection is being talked about too little.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Remote learning can't replace school

Despite all the problems and risks, reopening the schools this autumn is the best of a bunch of bad options, writes The Irish Times:

“Many teachers have underlying health conditions as do a minority of students but only the most high-risk individuals will be allowed to work from home. There are significant risks around schools staying closed, too. Despite heroic efforts, remote learning can never replace school. Young people's mental health will suffer if schools remain closed, never mind their education. A collapsed economy will deepen the injustices already suffered by the poorest. Given that, reopening remains the least bad option.”

L'Echo (BE) /

Prevent the emergence of a lockdown generation

In an interview with the business newspaper L'Echo, Hans Kluge, the WHO's European Affairs Officer, stressed his concerns about how young people will be affected by the coronavirus crisis. We must save them, the paper demands:

“The process is comparable to that of long-term unemployment: two years, after which reintegration into the labour market is considered difficult. It is through this alarming prism that the new school year should be viewed. Through the optimal organisation of teaching, supervision of students, the expansion of learning opportunities (especially online), and integration into working life - we must give young people in need new strength. ... This is a priority in order to avert their frustration faced with the consistent health threat. And to prevent our youth from being reduced to to a lockdown generation.”