Without relief for the disadvantaged (nd-aktuell.de)

This first grader’s mood for alternating classes is clear.

Photo: dpa/Sebastian Gollnow

Due to the pandemic, events are once again happening in schools. As at the beginning of last year, there is currently less school activity in the classrooms in some places. More and more schools are switching to alternating classes because of the rapidly increasing number of infections. According to the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK), 580 schools nationwide had limited face-to-face teaching in the second calendar week of 2022. Last year, in the eighth calendar week, there were even 2,089 schools without and over 19,000 with limited face-to-face teaching.

The traffic light coalition has ruled out school closures across the board. However, the incidence of infection suggests that week after week more schools will only conduct classes in person in phases or will even switch back to distance teaching completely. Accordingly, the discussions about psychological effects on schoolchildren are increasing again. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) recently said on the television program “Hart aber fair”: “I believe that a large part of these problems is simply due to the terrible pandemic. But that this cannot simply be blamed on the lockdown. You have to be careful there.«

Numerous studies have come to the conclusion that children and young people have been worse off since the beginning of the corona pandemic. According to the Copsy study by the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, their quality of life has decreased significantly. Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression have increased. This is also confirmed by health insurance companies and doctors. Dietrich Munz, President of the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, explained on ZDF that there are numerous observational studies that show that the psychological stress in children and adolescents has increased, especially during the lockdown phases.

“With the appropriate measures, school lessons are possible and safe even in times of the pandemic,” said Johannes Hübner, head of the department for infectiology at the clinic for paediatrics at the LMU Munich. He is one of the leaders of a long-term study of all six Bavarian university hospitals that was presented last Thursday. According to Hübner, the study results cannot be transferred one-to-one to Omikron, but the scientists believe that the strategy of keeping schools and childcare facilities as open as possible does not currently need to be changed.

Also last week, the professional association of paediatricians warned of the consequences of renewed school closures. Although this step cannot be avoided if the number of infections is very high, press spokesman Jakob Maske told the editorial network Germany. “But that clearly has to be the last step.” The consequences of school closures are worse for children and young people than the consequences of an infection.

It’s not just about the lack of social contacts through distance learning. Especially children and young people in cramped living conditions or in difficult family situations are additionally burdened with homeschooling. How are lessons supposed to work at home when your little brother is playing in the same room or your parents are arguing next door?

After all, in the vast majority of cases, devices are now available to be able to take part in distance learning at all. Even that was not guaranteed for months. Although there were already school closures across the board in mid-March 2020, it was only from the end of April that people in need received a subsidy of 150 euros to buy a tablet. Not as a direct payment to the families, but via the schools, which many were unable to cope with. It was only in February 2021 that the Federal Ministry of Labor instructed the job centers to recognize necessary expenses for digital participation in classes of up to 350 euros as an additional requirement. Because many students still did not have the right technical equipment.

Learning itself is also difficult for many in distance learning. In teacher surveys for the German school barometer, it became clear that school closures lead to an increase in lack of motivation, restlessness, truancy and also aggression.

The federal student conference therefore demands that the whole thing not be repeated: “Despite the Omicron variant, face-to-face teaching must have priority,” says a press release. Because of the school closures, many are still struggling with learning deficits, which increase with each phase of the school closures. “Children and young people from financially weaker families and environments with a migration background are even more affected,” according to the federal school conference. It calls for a daily test offer, regardless of vaccination and recovery status, and for those without 2G proof, mandatory testing at least three times a week.

The Education and Science Union also called on the Federal Minister of Health to also give preference to teachers and educators in the planned prioritization of PCR tests. So far, the somewhat more reliable laboratory tests should primarily be reserved for employees in the healthcare and nursing sectors.

Lauterbach has also spoken out against school closures so far. Instead, he prefers to top up on the booster incentives, he said. There were no new rules for schools on the agenda at the federal-state meeting on Monday. But even if there are no plans to close schools across the board, there will be more distance learning. If only because of the current quarantine regulations. And again, poverty-stricken students will suffer particularly badly.

“If you know that homeschooling doesn’t work with too many people in too small a space,” you could have used the classrooms even when schools are closed, said the general manager of the Parity Welfare Association, Ulrich Schneider. “In order to at least provide space for this distance learning for the children and young people who cannot do it at home at all.” But such relief is currently not planned.

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