New school year and still not a step forward?

In many European countries the new school year began on September 1. Hopes were high that after 18 months of closed schools, homeschooling, compulsory Covid tests and face masks there would be a return to normality. But the Delta variant is driving up infection rates, especially among children, most of whom are unvaccinated. Today's commentaries reflect disgruntlement and perplexity - and concerns over even bigger problems.

Open/close all quotes
Sega (BG) /

More and more demands on children

Masks are compulsory in Bulgaria in the new school year and classes can be stopped at any time depending on the number of infections. Once again, children are having to pay for adults' mistakes, Sega criticises:

“Because of the failed vaccination campaign for teachers (only 20 to 30 percent have had the jab) and insufficient pandemic restrictions, even tougher measures than before will apply in classrooms in the new school year - assuming that the school bells ring at all, which at this point is still not entirely certain. What else will children have to endure because of this pandemic?”

Birgün (TR) /

Overcrowded and left in the lurch

Turkish schools will reopen on Monday after practically no face-to-face classes since the start of the pandemic. State schools and private schools are worlds apart in terms of preparation, teacher's union activist Feray Aytekin Aydoğan complains in Birgün:

“Our reality is overcrowded schools and classes with 40, 50, 60 children. In one and a half years no additional classrooms have been organised and not enough teachers have been hired. And under these conditions we are supposed to maintain social distance. ... At private schools, on the other hand, catch-up lessons began on August 23. The disparity between public and private schools has worsened during the epidemic. Millions of pupils are seriously behind in their learning. But what we are seeing in teachers' committees is that the Ministry of Education has made no preparations whatsoever to compensate for this situation.”

Kurier (AT) /

Learning lags looming

The quarantine concept for the new school year in Austria is half-baked at best, Kurier believes:

“Every unvaccinated child can be sent into quarantine whenever an infection occurs. ... Then healthy children will sit at home in isolation for ten to fourteen days, worrying about whether they will get sick and not allowed to see anyone - except for their parents, who will hopefully be vaccinated. ... In addition, the school system has made no provisions for quarantined children to participate in lessons via distance learning. Why not? Surely the requisite tools were developed during the pandemic. Why are the classrooms offline again?”

Le Monde (FR) /

Segregation is an even bigger problem

Dealing with the pandemic is by no means the biggest problem schools face, Le Monde stresses:

“Tell me what neighbourhood you live in, how much your parents earn and where they were born - and I'll tell you if you'll do well in school. As 12.4 million students return to school, from those in kindergarten up to those in year 12, legitimate concerns about the pandemic and its specific risks in the school environment should not overshadow a deeper and more persistent problem in national education: the segregation between rich and poor pupils.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Questionable rules on masks

After a year and a half of homeschooling, students in Latvia return to school today. All those who have not been vaccinated or recovered will have to take a weekly Covid test and wear face masks. Neatkarīgā does not approve:

“Information about health used to be treated as sensitive and confidential. Today this principle only applies on paper. 'Certified' students can sit in the classroom without masks, while the rest or the majority have to wear them. So the vaccine status of each individual is clearly visible. In order to divide the students school administrations are free to decide that everyone has to wear masks. But then those who have been vaccinated will quite rightly ask why they have to put up with this.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Still no air filters

In an open letter in Die Presse, journalist Gudula Walterskirchen takes the Austrian Minister of Education to task:

“There are other ways to get fresher air indoors and eliminate viruses apart from just opening the window. ... In Germany, the installation of air filtration systems has been implemented for some time now. ... You, Minister, said in response to a journalist's question that this would be too expensive for schools. ... Consequently, some headmasters decided to take action themselves and have installed air purification units. They're already used to the lack of support on your part. They would probably give you bad marks. Because your ministry has now had one and a half years to purchase air purification units for all classrooms.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Allow infections among children and youths now

A new wave of infections at British schools is inevitable, but the government should leave them open nonetheless, The Spectator urges:

“There are arguments for doing so. With most adults jabbed and hospitalisations and deaths still at low levels, there is a lot less justification for any restrictions than there was prior to the vaccination programme. ... Additionally, last week's Israeli study suggesting that naturally-acquired immunity through infection might be stronger and longer-lasting than vaccine immunity can be used to argue for allowing the virus to pass through schools now, instead of winter when parents and grandparents might find their own immunity starting to wane.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Avoiding restrictions a Sisyphean task

The comprehensive lifting of restrictions announced by the Irish government will prove a major challenge for schools, the Irish Times points out:

“If schools are a point of vulnerability, given that under-12s are not vaccinated, and if keeping them open is a priority, what additional resources, whether through testing or additional surveillance, will be made available to protect them? Social restrictions are a blunt and straightforward policy instrument. Keeping Covid-19 at bay while enabling normal life to resume is in some ways a much more complex and challenging proposition.”

Delfi (LT) /

The most efficient school system in the world

A great opportunity has been missed in the Lithuanian education system, laments communications scientist Mantas Martišius in Delfi:

“The ministry of education could have shown leadership and arranged for the country's best teachers to teach in a distance learning school. A single teacher could teach hundreds of pupils digitally via computer. There is no need to stick to small classes with 20 pupils. Smaller classes are no guarantee whatsoever of better learning. Distance learning has brought us new opportunities, but sadly it looks like we have not used it effectively and productively during the eighteen months of lockdown.”