When will schools reopen?

In many European countries schools and universities have remained partially or completely closed after the Christmas holidays. Decisons on when and to what extent classroom teaching will restart are generally being taken contingent on current infection rates. For many commentators the measures regarding children and young people border on ignorance.

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The Observer (GB) /

Children considered last

The way schoolchildren are being treated in the crisis is scandalous, writes The Observer:

“While children remain relatively unaffected by the immediate health consequences of Covid, they will suffer the worst long-term consequences of the pandemic. The effects of months out of school, compounded by the financial hardship imposed by Covid, will be felt most acutely by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There will be lifelong ramifications for their economic, physical and psychological wellbeing. Yet the government has put almost nothing in place to try to lessen these impacts. ... It has made it as difficult as possible for teachers to adapt by issuing vague guidance and making difficult decisions as late as possible.”

Népszava (HU) /

A purely political decision

If the Hungarian government really wants to keep schools open there can be no talk of acting in children's best interests, Népszava complains:

“When making decisions, the only risk the government takes into account is that to its own popularity. ... The only reason kindergartens and primary schools are not being closed is that such a step would be deeply unpopular among parents and employers. ... The economy would also suffer from the consequences. ... This has nothing at all to do with reaching responsible if difficult technical decisions. It's all about politics.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Torture for students

Not just schoolchildren are affected by the cancellation of classes, Le Monde stresses:

“What will the generation of students who are trying to continue their education despite the pandemic remember? Isolated in cramped apartments, forced to return to their parents' home, left on their own because of the contact restrictions, these young people are going through an ordeal to which they see no end. For lack of prospects exhaustion is taking hold, the fear of failure is omnipresent and the threat of depression looms. ... These difficulties are common to all institutions of higher education around the world. But in France they are especially accentuated by the lack of political vision and ambition. ... Once again the pandemic has revealed pre-existing weaknesses and shown what structural difficulties the universities face.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Children are bearing the biggest burden

The new contact restrictions above all put children at a disadvantage, Handelsblatt points out:

“While schools and daycare centres are closed, adults are to continue to travel daily in crowded buses and trains to their open-plan offices. In their resolution, Merkel and the state premiers were once again only able to come up with a non-binding request for more people to work from home. Working at home is not always so easy to implement, they point out. That's strange, because they seem to be indifferent to the fact that distance teaching doesn't work at all. ... We can only speculate as to why politicians are once again making children shoulder the burden of the crisis. The most plausible explanation seems to be that they don't complain as loudly as adults. And they aren't allowed to vote.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

Zigzag course is necessary

The Nordschleswiger shows understanding for the often short-term changes of policy:

“Many are tired of this zigzag course, but what is the alternative to constantly weighing up the measures? To make a decision once and for all and then not deviate from that course? Several countries have tried that - without success. Therefore, the only correct course is to constantly adapt to the current circumstances, experiences and state of knowledge. And even then, you won't be able to please everyone. ... Is it confusing? At times it is, but on the other hand it's not difficult to understand that now we are allowed to gather in groups of only five instead of ten. ... That now schoolchildren have to stay home - and kindergarten children, too, if possible. Of course we can manage all this - it just requires that we all rethink our daily lives a little.”

Irish Independent (IE) /

No alternative to schools remaining closed

The Irish government is to decide on Wednesday whether schools will remain closed until the end of January. There's no other option, The Irish Independent believes:

“It is not that they are unsafe places as Ms Foley made abundantly clear at her meeting with opposition TDs. Rather it's the knock-on impacts of keeping them open and how the disease might travel from one household to the next when children go home. The unions have also grown increasingly concerned about their members' safety and there is nothing to be gained from fighting them after teachers stepped up to the plate last year.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Lacking consideration for parents and children

In Austria, it remains unclear when classroom teaching will start again. Der Standard finds this unacceptable:

“Whether there will be one week more or less of home schooling, which currently remains uncertain, is not a trivial matter. The daily routine has to be reorganised and the staff roster adapted in order to get everything coordinated. For those working from home, work-related phone calls have to be scheduled to fit in with the child's rhythm. ... Supplies have to be purchased so that the children have a meal at lunchtime, as they would otherwise have at school or after-school care. ... Yes, flexibility is needed in a pandemic - even more so when viral mutations emerge that are likely to represent an increased threat to children. Keeping parents and children in mind in any communication regarding the tightening or loosening of the lockdown is still the least that can be expected.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Pure improvisation

The government has no real strategy, author Paolo Giordano complains in Corriere della Sera:

“Why will secondary schools open on January 11 and not on January 7? And why not on the 18th, or even February 1? ... With which projections and which models were these scenarios worked out? ... I'm willing to bet - it's only a bet, mind you - that the Scientific Technical advisory Committee as well as the government see the current holiday period as a sort of bag of surprises from which anything could emerge. A drop in infections (as the data on mobility suggests), or on the contrary, an increase (which the number of family gatherings - although reduced - and the lack of control of personal quarantine measures lead one to believe). ... They haven't got a clue. ... And so we wait. And only when we see what comes out of the bag will we take action.”