FlyTitle: Closing schools

Closing schools for covid-19 does lifelong harm and widens inequality


经济学人双语版-扔掉铅笔书本 No more pencils, no more books

IN THE STREETS of Amsterdam children spend the “corona holiday” whizzing around on scooters; their peers in Madrid are mostly stuck at home with video games; those in Dakar look after younger siblings. The one place they are not is at school. Over three-quarters of the world’s roughly 1.5bn schoolchildren are barred from the classroom, according to UNESCO, a UN agency. In most of China and in South Korea they have not darkened school doors since January. In Portugal and California they will not return before September.


Schools have striven to remain open during wars, famines and even storms. The extent and length of school closures now happening in the rich world are unprecedented. The costs are horrifying. Most immediately, having to take care of children limits the productivity of parents. But in the long run that will be dwarfed by the amount of lost learning. Those costs will fall most heavily on those children who are most in need of education. Without interventions the effects could last a lifetime.


For these reasons Singapore in 2003 cut its month-long June holiday by two weeks to make up for a fortnight of school closures during the SARS epidemic. Closing schools even briefly hurts children’s prospects. In America third-graders (seven-year-olds) affected by weather-related closures do less well in state exams. French-speaking Belgian students hit by a two-month teachers’ strike in 1990 were more likely to repeat a grade, and less likely to complete higher education, than similar Flemish-speaking students not affected by the strike. According to some studies, over the long summer break young children in America lose between 20% and 50% of the skills they gained over the school year.


Closures will hurt the youngest schoolchildren most. “You can make up for lost maths with summer school. But you can’t easily do that with the stuff kids learn very young,” says Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University. Social and emotional skills such as critical thinking, perseverance and self-control are predictors of many things, from academic success and employment to good health and the likelihood of going to jail. Whereas older children can be plonked in front of a computer, younger ones learn far more when digital study is supervised by an adult.

停课对最年幼学童的伤害最大。“耽误掉的数学课可以通过暑期班补上。但幼童要学习的东西却无法通过这样的方式轻易弥补。”美国西北大学的马赛厄斯·德普克(Matthias Doepke)说道。批判性思维、毅力和自制力等社交和情感能力会影响孩子未来的学业成就、就业、健康乃至犯罪几率等方方面面。大一点的孩子可以直接被扔到电脑前去学习,但对幼童来说,有成年人从旁指引,线上学习的效果会大大加强。

Then there are those who are missing crucial exams. Germany is reopening schools for final-year high-school students who face exams soon. But most countries are not willing to do that. China has postponed its Leaving Certificate exam (gaokao) until July. Britain and France have cancelled this year’s exams. Grades will in part be decided by teachers’ predictions of how a student might have performed. This fuels fears about inequality, as some experts worry teachers unconsciously discriminate against disadvantaged children and give them unfairly low marks.


Statistics Norway estimates “conservatively” that the country’s educational shutdowns—from crèches to high schools—are costing NKr1,809 ($173) per child each day. Most of that is an estimate of how much less today’s schoolchildren will earn in the future because their education has been disrupted. (It is assumed they are learning roughly half of what they normally would.) The rest is lost parental productivity today.


Of course schooling has not stopped completely, as it does during holidays. Nearly nine in ten affected rich countries are providing some form of distance-learning (compared with fewer than one in four poor countries). But video-conferencing has its limits. For poorer children, internet connections may be ropey. Devices may have to be shared and homes may be overcrowded or noisy. Of the poorest quarter of American children, one in four does not have access to a computer at home.


Less well-off children everywhere are less likely to have well-educated parents who coax them to attend remote lessons and help them with their work. In Britain more than half of pupils in private schools are taking part in daily online classes, compared with just one in five of their peers in state schools, according to the Sutton Trust, a charity (private schools are more likely to offer such lessons). In the first weeks of the lockdown some American schools reported that over a third of their students had not even logged in to the school system, let alone attended classes. Meanwhile, elite schools report nearly full attendance and the rich have hired teachers as full-time tutors.

家境不好的孩子,其父母受过良好教育的几率普遍也较低,难以引导孩子上网课并辅导学习。慈善机构萨顿信托(Sutton Trust)的数据显示,在英国,私立学校有一半以上的学生每天上网课,而公立学校只有五分之一(私立学校更有可能提供网上课程) 。在封城的头几周,美国一些学校报告称超过三分之一的学生没有登录学校系统,更别说上网课了。与此同时,精英学校报告说网课几乎全勤,而且富人还请来了老师给孩子全天辅导功课。

Ashley Farris, an English teacher at KIPP high school in Denver, Colorado, says several of “her” kids are virtual truants. Her school worked hard to get students computers and Wi-Fi access, but the digital gap is only part of the story. Some must work to make up for parents’ lost wages. Others must look after younger siblings.

美国科罗拉多州丹佛市KIPP高中的英语老师阿什丽·法里斯(Ashley Farris)表示,她的好几个学生“逃学”不上网课。她所在的学校努力为学生提供电脑,帮他们接入无线网络,但数字鸿沟只是问题的一部分。有些学生要打工来弥补父母的收入损失,还有一些必须照顾弟妹。

Closures in Britain could increase the gap in school performance between children on school meals (a proxy for economic disadvantage) and those not on school meals, fears Becky Francis of the Education Endowment Foundation, another charity. Over the past decade the gap, measured by grades in tests, has narrowed by roughly 10%, but she thinks school closures could, at the very least, reverse this progress. At least over summer, teachers are not on tap for anyone. In the current lockdown some students can still quench their thirst for education not just with highly educated parents but also with teachers; others will have access to neither.

另一家慈善机构英国教育捐助基金会(Education Endowment Foundation)的贝基·弗朗西斯(Becky Francis)担心,英国停课可能会拉大在校就餐学童(表明家中经济状况不佳)和其他学童间的成绩差距。过去十年,按考试成绩衡量,这一差距缩小了约10%,但她认为停课至少会让这一进展倒退。起码在夏天,并非人人都能得到老师的指导。在当前封城时期,有些学生既有受过高等教育的父母又有老师来满足求知欲,但另一些学生两者都缺。

经济学人双语版-扔掉铅笔书本 No more pencils, no more books

Primary school is normally a crucial opportunity for gaps that emerged in early-years development to start narrowing, or at least to stop widening. That opportunity is now being missed. For a glimpse of the cost to the unluckiest young children, consider the Perry pre-school project of the 1960s, a study conducted in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which found that a control group of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not attend pre-school suffered lifelong consequences.

小学通常是缩窄早期发展差距或至少令其停止扩大的关键机会。现在这个机会正在错失。要了解最弱势的孩子在受教育上付出的代价,可以看看上世纪60年代在密歇根州伊普西兰蒂(Ypsilanti)进行的“佩里学前教育项目”(Perry pre-school project)。该研究发现对照组中没上过学前班的底层家庭孩子终生都受到了影响。

Mr Doepke estimates that by the autumn the sizeable group of American children whose learning loss started when schools closed might have lost as much as a year’s learning. Since every year of education is associated with an increase in annual earnings of roughly 10%, the consequences for those children become clear. “I fear we will see further inequality and less social mobility if nothing is done,” he adds.


What can be done to limit the costs? Finland started distance learning only when it was satisfied that almost every child would be able to take part. South Korea extended its school holiday to prepare teachers and distribute devices where needed. “For my school of 1,000 students, just 13 borrowed tablets because they had several siblings in their house,” says Hyunsu Hwang, an English teacher at Inmyung Girls High School, in Incheon. Teachers now use a mixture of real-time interactive classes, pre-recorded material and homework-based digital classes. When schools began to reopen on April 9th, official attendance was 98%.

如何减轻这种损害?在芬兰,学校要确保基本上每位学生都能参与才能开始远程教学。韩国延长了学校假期,方便教师做准备以及向有需要的学生分发设备。韩国仁川仁明女子高中的英语老师黄贤秀(音译)说:“在我们学校,一千名学生中只有13人因家中还有兄弟姐妹而需要借用平板电脑。” 现在,老师们综合使用直播互动课堂、录播资料以及基于作业的数字课堂等方式。学校于4月9日开课时,官方统计的出勤率达98%。

School systems where children are used to having to teach themselves will do better, reckons Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, a club of rich countries. “The real issue is if you’ve been spoon-fed by a teacher every day and are now told to go it alone, what will motivate you?” In Estonia and Japan students are used to “self-regulated activities”; across the OECD the share is nearly 40%. But in countries such as France and Spain, such autonomy is rare.

成员为富裕国家的经合组织的安德里亚斯·施莱希尔(Andreas Schleicher)认为,有培养学童自学习惯的学校体系能更好地应对目前的状况。“真正的问题是,如果你习惯了老师的填鸭式教学,现在让你自己去学,动力从哪里来?”在爱沙尼亚和日本,学生习惯了“自主学习”;在经合组织国家中这类教学体系的比例占近40%。但在法国和西班牙等国家则鲜见这种自主性。

In the end, the only way to ensure all children get an education is to reopen the doors. At the Alan Turing primary school in Amsterdam, it quickly became clear that 28 of its 190 pupils could not take part in online classes. The school now opens its doors for 15 from this group three mornings a week and has found other ways to help the remaining 13, such as arranging for them to get assistance from their neighbours. “At first it felt like we were doing something illegal,” says Eva Naaijkens, the headmistress, “but how can you accept a situation where a number of children just drop out?” She estimates that, working remotely, her teachers can impart perhaps 40% of the education they would normally.

最终,能确保所有孩子都获得教育的唯一方法就是重开校门。阿姆斯特丹的艾伦图灵小学很快了解到190名学生中有28人无法上网课。学校现在让这群学生中的15人每周有三个上午返校上课,同时用其他方法帮助其余13人,例如安排他们的邻居提供帮助。校长伊娃·奈艾肯斯(Eva Naaijkens)表示:“一开始我们感觉好像在做一桩违法的事,但你怎么能眼看着一些孩子没课上呢?”据她估计,老师远程授课只能传授大概正常情况下40%的内容。

As well as letting final-year secondary-school students facing exams resume classes, Denmark has also begun to reopen crèches and primary schools. It has made a priority of the very young for several reasons. The early stage of learning is crucial. The burden toddlers place on parents is heavy. And the risk of young kids getting or spreading the virus appears low.


Around the world many parents will be hoping their children’s schools can also safely reopen soon. Some children may have mixed feelings about swapping extra Xbox time for geography lessons. Tough luck: holidays have to end sometime. For the future well-being of whippersnappers scooting around the streets of Amsterdam, it is good news that Dutch primary schools will partially reopen on May 11th.■