Our world wakes up as lockdowns and vaccines begin to pay off
While many of us are now seeing pandemic restrictions lifted, coronavirus continues to rage in other parts of the world.
It is now sixteen months since the first signs of the coronavirus were reported in China and thirteen months since we entered our first lockdown to deal with it. Total deaths across the globe due to coronavirus have now reached 3 million and there have been 140 million cases reported. It is sad to report that there is little evidence as yet globally of the rate of cases declining. As rates decline in one country, they soar in another.
As we have reported amongst the countries we report on, the death rate in the United Kingdom (UK) remains highest, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) being the lowest.
Evidence is mounting to suggest that these differences are the result of actions taken by governments and factors relating to population density and make-up, including socio-economic disadvantage.
The major factor affecting new cases recently has been the rate at which vaccines have been introduced and accepted.
In this respect, the UK (50 per cent) and the UAE (100 per cent) far outperform the other countries. In the UK we are seeing a reduction in cases, hospital admissions and deaths. Enough evidence is now available to identify the point at which the vaccine begins to turn the tide of infection.
Individuals require two doses of the vaccine. The first provides a high level of protection, which is then topped up to maximum with the second. Contrary to many beliefs, none provide 100 per cent protection. Countries have adopted different timings between administering the jabs. Whereas in the United Kingdom it is 12 weeks, the UAE whilst in the UAE it has been four to six weeks.
Most countries have targeted their vaccination programme at the most vulnerable first, including the elderly and otherwise at risk. . As a result, in all but the UAE where the population has been vaccinated, students and a majority of the staff have not even received their first jab.
As our global community deals with the impact of the virus on education, a fragmented picture emerges. Several have experienced several lockdowns. Currently our colleagues at the Western Quebec School Board are in such a predicament.
It is within this general context that we now present reports over the next two posts from each country we cover. They contain a general update and a report from our correspondents.
England, along with the UK, is slowly emerging from another lockdown. Authorities have been cautious in relaxing restrictions. In England, schools opened for two weeks before the Easter break. There was considerable opposition from some unions to these actions, but the evidence demonstrates no real increase in the rate of infection, contrary to some predictions.
Much to the relief of some of us, we have now been allowed the opportunity to have our haircut, hold an outside meeting for up to six of our family, do some non-essential shopping and down a pint and a pie in the open air. Such ‘normal’ events in these circumstances take on far greater significance than usual.
In order to deal with the lost learning many students have experienced during the lockdown, the Department of Education has provided additional funding for a catchup programme. As we have reported, this is being led by Sir Kevan Collins. The programme has already benefited schools, with pupils being offered extra lessons over the Easter break and more to come. One of the other key activities is to provide one-to-one tutoring, however, this is being hampered by lack of resources.
Our correspondents report that the school environment has altered somewhat from before the pandemic. Routines are different and students, though pleased to be back with their friends, appear more serious and quieter. They attributed this to the fact that the students seem to be more outwardly aware and engaged in issues such as climate change and diversity than before. In addition, the physical restrictions still imposed to stop the spread of the virus, which include wearing masks, limit their general demeanour.
Staff are also dealing firsthand with increases in mental illness amongst students which is also attributed to the lockdown.
A significant number of students in their final year have experienced testing conditions, and though staff are doing everything they can to ensure they celebrate their departure together, they are likely to experience a more muted rights of pass than previous years. As usual, some are taking this in their stride whilst others are still struggling to deal with their new reality.
The more relaxed approach by the Swedish Government at the start of the pandemic which initially resulted in lower case and death rates than some other countries in Europe was by January being dramatically challenged by a considerable increase in cases. This resulted in greater restrictions but at a local rather than national level. However, even with these, as our graph shows, while cases have peaked, they remain considerably higher than in the past.
Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of Successful Schools Sweden reports that Sweden is now in a worse place to the UK. As well as experiencing another wave of the coronavirus, the availability of the vaccine and the take-up is much lower.
The Government has decided that schools are to remain open unless a local outbreak requires another decision. The overall reasoning from all perspectives is that it is simply not good for young people to be at home when they should be at school.
The result of this is that at the present time many schools, municipalities and regions, due to local situations, have had to go into either lockdown or different year groups attend school on different days of the week.
The Swedish newspapers report that headteachers have worked out that every new piece of regulatory information they receive from the authorities leads to more than 100 questions from pupils, teachers and parents and the teacher unions are demanding teacher safety is given more consideration.
Simon Thompson, Deputy Headteacher / Dirpwy Bennaeth, Cardiff High School / Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd reports that spring has arrived, the weather has taken a turn for the better, the vaccine rollout continues to steam ahead and with it the hope of a return to normality.
After many long weeks of remote learning, this week saw the full return to school for all pupils and face-to-face provision for learners. He added: “It has been great to see pupils of all ages back in school, enjoying time with their peers, re-establishing familiar routines and of course being able to re-engage fully with learning and teaching in the classrooms. Whilst blended remote learning has matured in its approach and sophistication in Wales since its inception many months ago, it is, as all professionals I’m sure would agree, not as effective as live face-to-face provision in the classroom. Teachers are once again able to fully engage, nurture, support, inspire and challenge learners to be the best they can be, and it has been fantastic walking around the school seeing the high levels of both engagement and enjoyment emanating from the classrooms around the school.
“Mitigation measures continue in schools to minimise the risk of outbreaks and try to avoid the need for learners to isolate at home. In addition to the well-established routines, the use of Lateral Flow Tests is now being fully used in educational settings by both staff and older learners. Twice-weekly asymptomatic testing is being carried out and thus far, for our school, has been successful in keeping Covid out.
“For examination classes in Years 11 – 13, the focus has now sharply turned to the prospect of Centre Determined Grades (CDGS’s), which are being used in Wales to determine the grade awarded to learners following the cancellation for the second year of all public external examinations. School leaders and teachers are now working tirelessly to interpret and implement the CDG systems, which have been established by the Government and the examinations regulator, in the fairest way for our learners. This is proving to be a significant undertaking for schools to manage as teachers are now required to award grades on the basis of robust evidence and so the next few weeks presents yet another challenge for both staff and pupils to adapt to in a year which has been anything but normal.”
Take care and stay safe