Should schools open now or remained closed for a while longer? New Zealand’s experience with the coronavirus has some lessons for us.

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Schools around some countries in the world have been open for a while and some are opening in the next month or two. Colleges in America and the UK have been coming up with ways to teach students in some combination of online and offline learning. Some people have been going to work, to offices with 10% occupancy in the space at one time. Here in India, the central government is recommending the opening of schools on September 1, 2020, or is thinking about it anyway. The trick will be in keeping people safe and not giving the virus a chance to gain more of a foothold than it already has.

Through all this, New Zealand seems to have had the best luck with controlling the spread of the virus. Until August 11, 2020, it reported that it had had no new cases of COVID-19 transmitted through the community for 100 days! All new cases were those in people returning from outside the country. And those coming into the country are kept in a government quarantine facility for two weeks. In addition, they have reported only 22 deaths due to coronavirus through this pandemic, from a population of 22 million.

How did they achieve this feat? They have been testing a lot and isolating those who test positive. They are also a nation that doesn’t share land borders with anyone else and have been successful in stopping people from entering their country since March. Furthermore, they have a much smaller population per unit of area than we do in India – they have an average of 18 people per square kilometer, whereas here in India, we have 455 people per square kilometer! That means that when people fall sick, people in India have a greater likelihood of passing it on to others, sometimes even before they might know they are sick!

This changed today, August 12, 2020, when they reported the first four cases in more than 100 days in the community, for which the origin is unknown. This highlights the fact that this virus is wily and will find a way to live and propagate itself, and that we must continue to take care.

What do you think about schools opening in India? While there are some who have the luxury of learning online, there are many kids who do not have the devices or the wi-fi to be able to access this. The UN released a report recently that said that the education of 1 billion kids around the world is being compromised due to the schools being shut and limited access to learning materials!

This pandemic is affecting people around the world in many ways, and because they have less access, some say that it is disproportionately affecting the poor. It is a difficult decision that authorities face now – open schools and risk the health of children, teachers and school staff? Or keep them closed for a while longer and risk more children losing out on their learning experience? What do you think?


Written by: Sunaina Murthy

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