Closed schools, overburdened parents, children without a lobby: After the first lockdown, it was clear to everyone that Corona was a particular burden for children. Unfortunately, even after more than two years of the pandemic, there is often no safe school and daycare environment. Even if the summer holidays bring a breather, we have to make schools and daycare centers pandemic-proof for the fall.
The claim that Covid is safe for children has been refuted. PIMS and Long Covid are by no means only affected by children with previous illnesses. But for these in particular, other concepts are needed than just staying at home. We have to find individual answers for children. Black and white thinking à la “School open!” versus “School closed!” doesn’t get us anywhere.
We have to make schools as safe as possible – and find other solutions for all the children for whom that is not enough. That’s challenging. But it is also urgently needed after the long period of restrictions for certain children.
The opinions of the Expert Council show how schools can be made safer – and the time over the summer must now be used to implement them. School rooms must be equipped with air filters. Here it is the federal states’ turn.
In addition, inexpensive CO₂ measuring devices should be installed in all classrooms, which can help to regularly provide fresh air. Masks and tests are other effective measures. Where the incidence requires it, these measures should be available quickly at any time – there must be a legal basis for this in the Infection Protection Act.
The availability of these basic measures must not depend on the parents’ wallet; FFP2 masks must therefore be free for students who cannot afford them. Teachers should not have to pay for this protective measure themselves. And it finally needs low-threshold vaccination campaigns in all schools and at the school entry examinations.
But what can a solution look like for the children who are still unable to take part in face-to-face classes because an infection with Corona would be too dangerous for them or their relatives?
Of course we have to do everything we can to ensure that these children can go back to school as soon as possible. Research on improved vaccines and treatment methods is therefore also essential for their protection.
But realistically, it will take time before these children can attend a normal school again without worrying about themselves or their parents. We therefore need an alternative solution: these children must be given the opportunity – as long as they cannot attend a local school – to be taught online – by trained teachers, together with children who are in a similar situation. An online school anchored in the regular school system.
When discussing this idea, two arguments are quickly countered: Children need other children. And it would be fatal to undermine compulsory schooling and thus open the floodgates to home schooling. Both are true, we do not question either.
When we talk about online schools, it has to be clear: they are the exception. The rule always remains the obligation to be present at the local school. Of course, access to an online school must be clearly regulated. But for many children, after two and a half years of the pandemic, it would mean lessons in the classroom again for the first time – with group work instead of alone at the desk, instructed by trained teachers – digital, but still a significant improvement on the current situation.
The right to education applies to all children – online schools would be one way to guarantee this right. And they would not only be an improvement for children from these “shadow families”. Many children who are unable to attend school for long periods of time due to illness are currently being educated in hospital schools or in home schooling, often on a one-to-one basis. Here, an online school can be a useful addition and enable cooperative learning.
An online school could even reactivate teachers. Because not only students and their relatives suffer from previous illnesses – some teachers are currently unable to teach on site. Online schools offer a new professional perspective for many.
Online schools are not a new invention. An impressive example is the war-torn Ukraine, which enables its students to take online lessons and thus gives them some support.
Distance learning options have also existed in Germany for years – for example for children of diplomats. We should have the courage to open them now to all the children who need them. We should think ahead about them: Even beyond Corona, they can represent a building block for educational participation.
In the medium term, the establishment of further online schools in the federal states would make sense – this can ensure that the children are taught according to the framework curricula of the federal states and that they can return to their schools of origin as soon as possible. In order for the federal states to be able to cope with this task, we should discuss using funds from the Digital Pact 2.0 for this.
Even if some do not want to admit it: the pandemic is not over yet. It is our task now, as the federal and state governments, to make every effort to make schools safe and to ensure that all children have the right to education. So that the children in particular, who have suffered particularly badly over the past two and a half years, can finally experience lessons and community.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt (Greens) is Vice President of the German Bundestag. Nina Stahr is spokeswoman on education policy for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen parliamentary group in the Bundestag.