With the beginning of the second semester, back to school it becomes the center of discussion of the pandemic in Brazil and worldwide. Science has said that it is possible to return, provided it is safe. This is because preliminary studies show that children become less infected and transmit the disease less. Educators list the losses: losses to learning, social life and even the risk of serious damage to students’ mental health and nutrition. But uncertainties regarding the confrontation of pandemic, the difficulty for children to comply with health rules and the number of infected in the country make parents and teachers feel insecure to return to schools.
Last week, the Estadão revealed that the São Paulo city council will make a resolution so that parents can decide whether their children return or not. Schools now need to think about how to organize the return for who will and will not be present. A survey by Colégio Dante shows that 40% of parents would not send their children in the first phase of the opening determined by the state government, scheduled for September. In Porto Seguro, classrooms are being adapted with cameras and screens for those at home.
“Children will not respect the protocol, stay with masks, they want to play with friends. For me, he won’t be back this year, ”says Fernanda Pacheco, 41, mother of Theo, 9, who studies at a private school. “I had no dilemma, my daughter does not return with the situation that the pandemic is in,” adds Katia Vieira, 45, also the mother of a 9-year-old girl. She said she communicated with the school and hopes there is a solution for her daughter to continue studying remotely.
The latest data from Ministry of Health show that 585 children and adolescents under the age of 19 have died from covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in Brazil. The country passed 90 thousand dead. About 5,000 were hospitalized. Case studies in China, Australia, Finland, Ireland and Spain indicate that children do not transmit coronavirus as much as adults. They make direct references to schools, with titles like “the child is not to blame” or conclusions that educational institutions are at low risk of contamination, which prompted the American Society of Pediatrics to request a return to school in the USA.
A study, done in Sweden, which never closed early childhood schools, indicates that there was no greater infection among teachers. In Ireland, six children and adults infected with covid were monitored for 14 days. They had school contacts with 1,000 other children and 100 adults. No one has been infected. Another research published in the scientific journal Nature looked at children, young people and adults in cities of different cultures, such as Milan and Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe. The results show that people under the age of 20 are twice as resistant to the virus than those over 20.
The difficulty is still to know why. For the president of the Department of Infectious Diseases of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics, Marco Aurélio Safadi, the best hypothesis refers to the fact that children have a virus receptor with less expression. “For the virus to enter the organism, it needs to have the key to our lock,” he explains. In the case of the coronavirus, it is called the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). It would make it difficult for the virus to establish itself in the body, especially for children under 10 years old.
Even reinforcing that the evidence is still initial, Safadi believes that, with protection, it is important to return. “If there is a drop in the cases, going back to school is less painful than maintaining the interruption,” says the pediatrician, who fears damage to the students’ nutrition and mental health, cases of depression and abuse at home.
Just over ten countries have already opened their schools, including France, Germany and Australia, but 1 billion students worldwide (60% of the total) are still without classes, according to UNESCO. Europe has seen an increase in cases again, but it is not known if there is a relationship with the return, since schools closed again for holidays and restaurants and beaches are open. In Israel, schools reopened in May and had to postpone holidays because the number of infected people grew. The topic is also controversial in the USA, where states like New York and Florida will resume face-to-face classes, but cities like Los Angeles and San Diego will continue with remote education.
“We are facing a situation of extreme complexity”, says the Unesco representative in Brazil, Marlova Noleto. “The longer students spend time outside of school, the greater the risk that they will not return. But of course we need to save lives. ” Evasion is already a serious problem in the country; 23% of 16 year olds are not in school. And only 4 out of 10 19-year-old students complete high school.
The expectation of educators is that the numbers will worsen with the pandemic, due to the economic crisis and discouragement, increasing inequalities. But the consequences of being out of school affect children and adolescents of all classes. Studies – like one done in Italy – have shown weight gain, physical inactivity and unhealthy habits among students at home. “The health in the development of these young people is one of the biggest losses of this pandemic. That is why, when we can return safely, schools must be opened ”, says the São Paulo Secretary of Education, Rossieli Soares.
Public and private education networks strive to offer remote education, with better or worse quality. But one of the strongest conclusions of a survey carried out by Todos pela Educação on moments that follow crises is that “even with well-structured remote teaching actions, the temporary suspension of face-to-face classes creates significant learning gaps”. And there are still 18% of the municipalities in the country that did not do any activity in this period with their students.
“Sanitary conditions are terrible. The students will exchange biological material and expose people at home, no matter how much they do, they will do a lot ”, says the sanitary doctor and columnist of the Estadão Gonzalo Vecina Neto, who advocates returning only when there is a vaccine. In Latin America, 14% of students do not have access to water and 22% do not have bathrooms in good condition in schools, according to a survey by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
“I love what I do, but I’m afraid to come back,” says a teacher who asked for her name not to be published. She is 45 years old and in poor health. The teachers’ union in São Paulo has been protesting “in defense of life” so that classes will only return at the end of the pandemic.
“We are in a phase of resuming several activities. The risk exists in all of them ”, says the Secretary of Education of Pernambuco and vice president of the board of secretaries, Fred Amâncio, who defends the return as soon as the Health area authorizes it. “We need to understand the role of the school in the lives of children, through learning, the social and balance it gives to young people. Education is crucial in the development of people and the country. ”
Decisions must be community-based, says psychologist
For the psychologist Ilana Katz, the school cannot teach children to be afraid of people. “The idea of safety has objective components, such as washing hands and wearing a mask, but also subjective,” he says. For this, parents, students, teachers and managers need to participate in the decisions of how to resume classes. “With community agreements, families will be more secure because they will share responsibilities. If everyone agrees that whoever has symptoms will not come to school, it will be a pact and each will trust the other more ”, he explains. “We know that we will not be 100% safe, but we will be agreed.”