FlyTitle: School closures

How the covid-19 pandemic is interrupting children’s education

新冠肺炎全球大流行如何扰乱儿童教育【新冠报道】

经济学人双语版-期中休假 Mid-term break

CHILDREN USUALLY rejoice in a break from school, assuming it will be a chance to slack off. Not Ryu, a nine-year-old in Tokyo. As the new coronavirus spread across Japan, schools throughout the country closed on March 2nd. His parents have enforced a strict schedule every day. It includes Japanese, science and physical education. He does mathematics on his abacus every morning. On weekdays he is allowed to play in a park for 90 minutes. “I wish I could take him to the park more, but we have limited time as we work from home,” frets his mother, Fujimaki Natsuko.

孩子们通常都喜欢学校放假,心想又可以玩儿了。但在东京,九岁的小龙不开心。因为新冠病毒在日本传播,全国的学校都在3月2日关闭了。父母每天对他执行严格的学习时间表,包括日语、科学和体育。每天早上他在算盘上做算术。工作日他可以到公园里玩一个半小时。“我希望能多带他去公园,但我们在家工作,没那么多时间。”妈妈藤卷夏子也犯愁。

Ryu is one of almost 1bn students around the world whose schooling has been interrupted as a result of covid-19 (see map). As The Economist went to press, just over 100 countries including China, Italy and South Korea had closed their schools, as had 43 states in America, as part of efforts to contain covid-19. Britain will close all schools on March 20th. Schools, where sticky-fingered children gather every day, sharing toys and sucking on pencils, are an obvious place for diseases to flourish. In 2013 Britain’s Health Protection Agency looked at flu outbreaks that coincided with school closures. It found that shutting them slowed the transmission of the virus, even if it also slowed the transmission of knowledge.

小龙是世界各地因为新冠肺炎而不能去上学的近10亿名学生之一(见地图)。在本刊于上周四付印之时,包括中国、意大利和韩国在内的100多个国家以及美国的43个州都为了防控疫情关停了学校。英国在20日也关闭了所有学校。在校园里,手指黏糊糊的孩子们每天聚在一起,分享玩具,咬铅笔头,这显然是个疾病容易肆虐的地方。2013年,英国健康防护局(Health Protection Agency)研究了与学校停课同时发生的流感爆发,结果发现关闭学校减慢了流感病毒传播,虽然它也减慢了知识的传播。

经济学人双语版-期中休假 Mid-term break

The data on whether school closures will curb covid-19 are limited. Children may not be the “main routes of transmission”, says Michael Head, who studies global health at the University of Southampton. And the economic, social and educational costs are heavy. On March 12th Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, said there were “many, many reasons” not to close the city’s 1,800 schools (though on March 16th it did just that, shuttering America’s largest school system for at least four weeks). For all governments, deciding whether or not to close schools is a choice between two bad options.

关闭学校能不能遏制新冠肺炎,相关数据还很有限。南安普顿大学研究全球健康的迈克尔·黑德(Michael Head)说,少儿可能不是“主要传播途径”。而这么做在经济、社会和教育方面的代价却很高。3月12日,纽约市市长白思豪(Bill de Blasio)表示,出于“很多、很多的原因”不能关闭纽约市的1800所学校(但到了16日事情就变了,这个美国最大的学校系统停摆至少四周)。对所有政府而言,决定是否关学校不过是两害相权取其轻。

A study in 2009 modelling the effects of closing all schools and formal day-care centres in America for a month put the cost at 0.1-0.3% of GDP. Some countries seem better prepared to deal with the economic impact. In China the nationwide closures came with government-mandated work-from-home policies and subsidies for companies to enable their employees to do so. But in Japan not all parents are entitled to work from home or to take paid sick leave. In Italy one-fifth of workers are self-employed and so do not qualify for sick pay. People in precarious work may lose their jobs altogether if they have to stay at home to look after children.

在2009年开展了一项研究,对关闭美国所有学校和正规日托中心持续一个月的影响建模,结果得出这么做的损失达到GDP的0.1%到0.3%。一些国家在应对这种经济影响方面似乎更有准备。在中国,全国各地关闭学校的同时,政府也要求人们在家远程办公,并补贴企业好让它们的员工这么做。但在日本,并非所有父母都被允许在家工作或能请带薪病假。在意大利,五分之一劳动者是个体户,没有资格领取病假工资。从事不稳定职业的人们如果不得不留在家里照顾孩子,可能会彻底丢了工作。

For poor children, schools may provide the most nutritious meal of the day. Around 26m children in American schools—roughly half of all students—qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In New York City 22,000 children sleep in municipal shelters. Some school districts in New York are setting up pickup points so that the hard-up can still get free meals. Britain has said it will continue to provide those children who ordinarily get free school meals with food.

对贫困生而言,学校可能提供了一天里最营养的一餐。美国学校中约有2600万儿童(约占总数一半)有资格领取免费或优惠午餐。纽约市有22,000名儿童睡在市政府开设的收容所里。纽约州的一些学区目前都在设点,让贫困生可以领取免费午餐。英国已经表示会继续向那些平常领取免费校餐的儿童供应食物。

Officials must always take such costs into account. But in the middle of a pandemic there is an extra consideration. The study in 2009 estimated that, if schools are closed for a month, between 6% and 19% of key health-care workers would have to stay at home to take care of their offspring. Britain will keep schools running for vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.

这些是官员们从来都要考虑的代价。但在疫病大流行期间还有一个额外的考量。2009年的研究估计,如果学校关一个月,关键医护人员中有6%至19%将不得不留在家中照顾自己的孩子。英国将为弱势儿童和父母是关键工作者的儿童继续开放学校。

For most parents, however, the immediate worry is how prolonged school closures will affect their children’s education. Those preparing to take crucial exams are particularly jittery. The gaokao, China’s single university-entrance exam, is usually held in June. This year it will probably be delayed, says Xu Liangdi of China Policy, a think-tank, although the government has so far made no announcement.

不过,对大多数父母而言,最直接的担忧是长时间停课对子女学习的影响。那些准备参加重要考试的人尤其焦虑不安。中国唯一的大学入学考试高考通常在6月举行。智库中国政策(China Policy)的徐良迪(音译)说,今年高考可能会推迟,虽然到目前为止,政府还没有做任何公告。

Around 245,000 students in Britain were expecting in May and June to sit their A-levels, the exams that determine which university—if any—will grant them a place. On March 18th the government announced that those exams would be cancelled. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said that the government would make sure that children still got “the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career.” That may go some way to assuaging fears that children whose parents lack the cash or knowledge to compensate for schools closing would be worst affected.

英国约有24.5万名学生准备在五六月间参加A-level考试,这些考试将决定哪所大学会录取他们(如果有的话)。3月18日,政府宣布这些考试将被取消。总理鲍里斯·约翰逊表示,政府将确保孩子们仍能获得“为其学历所需也应得的资质”。这可能在某种程度上缓解了一些人的忧虑,他们担心那些父母缺乏现金或知识来弥补停校损失的孩子受到的影响最大。

For American students the stakes are lower, in part because their transcript—based on their academic performance throughout the year—is the most important part of their university application, but also because they can take SATs, the exams used in college admissions, all year round. Most sit them in the spring. For those hoping to start university in 2021, the March and May tests have been cancelled. They will be rescheduled, however, and students may be able to take them at home.

美国学生的风险更低些,一部分是因为美国大学申请中最重要的部分是基于全年学业表现的成绩单,此外他们可以在一整年里多次参加大学入学的SAT考试。大多数人在春季参加考试。对于那些希望在2021年入校的学生,3月和5月的考试已经被取消了。不过考试时间会另作安排,而且学生们也许还可以在家里考试。

Nonetheless universities may have to be more accommodating. Covid-19 will “absolutely” affect the admissions procedure for Miami University in Ohio, says Bethany Perkins, the director of admissions—particularly the deadlines. Students with offers from American universities have to choose which to accept by May 1st. But students worry that they will have to make an important decision without being able to visit any campuses. Along with their parents, some are calling for the date to be pushed back to June 1st. Colleges have yet to react. Harvard says it is not changing its application process.

尽管如此,大学可能都必须变得更灵活通融。俄亥俄州迈阿密大学的招生负责人贝萨妮·珀金斯(Bethany Perkins)说,新冠肺炎“绝对”会影响该校的招生程序,尤其是截止日期。拿到美国大学录取通知书的学生必须在5月1日前选定学校。但学生们担心自己还没能参观任何校园就要做出重大决定。一些学生和他们的家长一起呼吁将日期推迟到6月1日。学校尚未做出回应。哈佛大学表示它没有改变申请程序。

The disruption has lent ammunition to those who disapprove of high-stakes exams, which some education theorists want to scrap. Some institutions have already made SATs optional. Others, including Miami University, were considering doing so. The upheaval caused by covid-19 might accelerate that process, says Ms Perkins. But the flaws of other kinds of assessment may become clear in the coming months, bolstering those who believe that SATs and other high-stakes exams, which offer a relatively objective and transparent measure of ability, are the least unfair way to decide who gets into university.

这种混乱为那些反对重大考试的人们提供了弹药——一些教育理论家一直想取消这类考试。有些学校已经不要求提供SAT考试成绩。包括迈阿密大学在内的其他学校也在考虑这样做。珀金斯说,疫情引发的混乱可能会加速这个进程。但其他类型的评估也可能在接下来的几个月暴露出它们的缺点,从而支持另一个阵营的看法——他们认为SAT等重大考试提供了相对客观和透明的衡量能力的标准,是决定谁该上大学的相对而言最公平的方法。

The pandemic won’t change this. But it will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of teaching online. Online resources are increasingly popular but few countries boast a developed digital infrastructure for all students. A survey by Teacher Tapp, an app, of over 6,000 teachers in Britain found that only 40% of those in state schools would be able to broadcast a video lesson, compared with 69% of teachers at independent schools. Elena Silva of New America, a think-tank, says that few American states have adequate kit for teaching online. “Most states are not that prepared. This is a moment of forced opportunity.”

疫情不会改变这种对峙。但它将凸显在线教学的优缺点。线上教学资源日益受到欢迎,但很少有国家能为所有学生提供发达的数字基础设施。应用程序Teacher Tapp对英国6000多名教师的调查发现,公立学校中只有40%的教师能够播放视频课程,而私立学校中为69%。智库新美国(New America)的埃琳娜·席尔瓦(Elena Silva)说,美国拥有足够线上教学工具的州很少。“大多数州都没有准备得很好。这是一个被迫创造机遇的时刻。”

Teachers have little choice but to seize it. Since Italy closed its schools and universities on March 5th, teachers’ forums have filled with discussions on the relative merits of Zoom, Moodle and virtual classrooms. Some teachers had been trained to use such technology, but many have faced a steep learning curve. Carla Crosato, a teacher in Treviso, in northern Italy, has been uploading videos in which she explains the novels of Italo Svevo and Luigi Pirandello to her students. “I never thought I’d become a YouTuber at 56,” she says.

教师们别无选择,只能抓住它。自3月5日意大利关闭各类学校以来,教师论坛上充斥着关于Zoom、Moodle和虚拟教室的相对优点的讨论。一些教师已经接受过如何使用这类技术的培训,但许多人都面临一番痛苦的学习。意大利北部的特雷维索(Treviso)的教师卡拉·克罗萨托(Carla Crosato)一直在上传视频,给她的学生讲解伊塔洛·斯韦沃(Italo Svevo)和路伊吉·皮兰德娄(Luigi Pirandello)的小说。 “我从没想过在56岁时会变成YouTube主播。”她说。

Even if teachers manage to broadcast their lessons, students may struggle to join them. Not everyone can get online (see chart). In America 7m school-age children cannot access the internet at home. Lin Kengying of 21st Century Education Research Institute, a think-tank in China, says that the closure of schools since the Lunar new year holiday, which began at the end of January, has led his organisation to reconsider the potential of e-learning. “It hasn’t been smooth,” he says, citing problems such as internet access, scheduling classes, teachers unfamiliar with online tuition, and subjects such as physical education being “awkward” to teach remotely. In China teachers have to submit lesson plans for review by censors, which has led to delays. Students have been spamming the main online teaching app with one-star reviews in an effort to get it removed from the app store. And Xue Hua, a mother of two in Jiangxi province, has been printing out all the learning materials for her 16-year-old son, Guo Guo, because she worries about too much screen-time.

哪怕教师最终搞定了课程直播,学生们参加起来可能也有困难。不是所有人都能上网(见图表)。美国有700万学龄儿童没法在家中上网。中国智库21世纪教育研究院的林铿蓥说,自1月底春节假期起学校关闭以来,研究院对线上学习的潜力有了一些新的认识。“情况不太顺利。”他说。他罗列了一些问题,比如网络连接、排课、对上网课不熟悉的老师,另外远程上体育课也有点“别扭”。在中国,教师必须提交课程计划供平台审查,这导致了播放延时。学生们组团给一款大型线上教学应用打出一星评价,以求它被应用商店撤架。在江西,两个孩子的母亲薛华(音译)因为担心孩子看屏幕的时间太久,一直在为16岁的儿子郭果(音译)打印出所有学习资料。

经济学人双语版-期中休假 Mid-term break

Even done properly, online learning is a poor substitute for the kind that happens in a classroom. On average, students fare worse working online, especially those with less strong academic backgrounds, says Susanna Loeb of Brown University. Online courses can be an asset when students cannot be in school, but she reckons that they are “suboptimal for most” and argues that long periods of time spent away from actual schools will probably lead to children’s education suffering.

哪怕网课上得好,它也无法替代课堂里的那种学习。布朗大学的苏珊娜·勒布(Susanna Loeb)说,平均而言学生在网上的学习效果更差,尤其是那些成绩不太理想的学生。当孩子们没法去学校时,网课可能算是个福音,但她认为,它们“对大多数人而言不是最理想的选择”,长时间离开实体校园可能会让孩子们的教育受损。

Online learning has clear potential. Educational technology powered by artificial intelligence can help children in poor countries with iffy schools—supposing they have internet access. In 2018 researchers found that after four and a half months of using an Indian app called Mindspark, which tests basic language and maths skills, children made more progress in these areas than those in the control group. But the success of such initiatives relies on preparation and organisation, not sudden scrambles to teach existing curriculums to entire populations of students in the midst of a pandemic. ■

网课的潜力十分明显。人工智能驱动的教育技术可以为那些学校质量堪忧的贫困国家儿童提供帮助(如果他们有条件上网的话)。2018年,研究人员发现,在使用印度的一款应用Mindspark测试基本语言和数学技能四个半月后,儿童在这些领域里的进步超过对照组。但是,这类方案的成功有赖于准备和组织,而不是在疫病大流行中赶鸭子上架般地把现有的课程内容搬到网上,塞给所有学生。■