“Does the school remain open on principle? “, wonders the Terra Nova think tank, at a time when the controversy swells around the reduction of the health protocol, decided on February 12 by the Ministry of National Education. “The note was written before the decision, which confirms that the ministry is making choices in principle, disconnected from the reality of the epidemic”, comments Mélanie Heard, head of the health center of Terra Nova and author of the document.
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Terra Nova wants to get out of what it calls “Denial of the health reality”, but above all to draw up future prospects for fighting Covid-19 at school. According to the think tank, it is urgent to rethink all the tools, “In the face of variants whose level of contagiousness will soon leave little choice”.
The role of schools in the spread of the virus
“The contribution of children and schools to the spread of the epidemic is now established, but the ministry has not yet integrated these results”, says Mélanie Heard, citing several studies which show that the virus circulates strongly among school-age groups and that children bring the virus into homes. Among them, an American study dated September 2020 according to which the closure of schools would reduce by 60% the new cases of infection.
The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has been defending for months the idea that the health protocol makes it possible to contain the epidemic well. An assertion disputed by Terra Nova, which points out that “The light containment has not made it possible to contain the epidemic to a satisfactory level”, while “The school environment is characterized by a structural difficulty in combining the different barrier measures”. Wearing a mask, in particular, is not enough in poorly ventilated areas, with high occupancy rates, where people talk at length.
Conspiracy within the family, reconciling concern for the truth and maintaining the link
“We must get out of management in an emergency to change behavior in the long term”, argues Mélanie Heard, who wants students and teachers to be better involved in prevention. To go beyond an operation based on “Fear and obedience to rules”, the school environment would benefit from better promoting preventive actions, by taking the example of campaigns against tobacco and alcohol, or sexuality education. France has developed “Real expertise on these subjects”, supports Terra Nova, which proposes to mobilize various tools (YouTube channel, influencers, fun quizzes, etc.) “That the message sent to children and adolescents becomes positive and motivating”.
An IT support plan
Coming back to distance education, which could prevail again if the situation deteriorates, Mélanie Heard agrees with the difficulties encountered by both families and teachers. But she expresses reservations about the alarmist rhetoric about the psychological impact of school closures on children, noting that “The French pediatric society speaks of disaster, without however citing figures to support its cry of alarm”.
Above all, she argues, the negative impacts “Can be mitigated by appropriate measures, starting with support for computer equipment for families”, citing the United Kingdom and its massive plan to distribute materials. ” In any case, adds Mélanie Heard, the fears raised by distance education do not justify the rhetoric of dramatization ” which she believes pediatricians and government use, and must be weighed against the risk of an epidemic out of control.
A real screening policy
In terms of epidemiological surveillance, precisely, ” everything has to be done “, estimates the note. If the ministry has regularly highlighted the rather reassuring results of the screenings carried out in the establishments, these campaigns, “Useful for identifying and breaking any transmission chains”, recognizes Mélanie Heard, suffer from several biases, including the absence of some of the students on the date of the test, and they do not provide a reliable view of the situation.
“There is no question of cynicism or of deliberate endangerment”, would like to clarify the researcher, but rather “A lack of epidemiology and public health skills within national education”. To remedy this, Terra Nova suggests “A mass screening strategy”, as well as the establishment of a scientific unit placed under the dual authority of the ministries of health and education, “Capable of giving a precise discourse on the risks and of going beyond the rivalry between the two institutions”, while communicating better with teachers and parents of students.