Are schools non-essential?

The closure of schools is a phenomenon that should worry anyone that values education. We are the people of the book, we are proud of our intellectual achievements, we count our Prize Nobel, we built the Start-Up Nation. Still, we took away from our children the ability to learn without even having a serious conversation about it.

Our education system was already broken, Israeli students performed poorly on international tests, and educational gaps between communities were growing rapidly. Transforming our schools is undoubtedly imperative in the future. But right now, we are destroying the old, without any plans for the new. Schooling has slowly become non-essential.

Closing schools isn't a neutral policy; it will affect school-aged children for many years to come. Since mid-March, most school-aged children haven't attended school regularly. The emotional, cognitive, and academic costs associated with closing schools is becoming more apparent as days turned to weeks and now to months.

Those costs are challenging to quantify amid the crisis, but it is a fallacy to assume they don't exist. We are discovering that remote learning increases educational gaps between communities. We also know that missing school or dropping out of school has long-lasting effects on an individual's future streams of income.

An increased gap in access to education

Teachers and schools have made efforts to offer remote learning solutions. However, this model is still in its "experimental" phase, and it will need many developments to be a realistic alternative to the real classroom.

For remote learning to become a real solution, it requires that every child has access to a computer, a relatively fast internet connection, and a quiet place to concentrate. In Israel, most children lack at least one of those tools. According to - the 2018 Household Expenditure Survey- 77% of households have a home computer, but among the poorest families, it's only 51%. Even among the families owning a personal computer, only a third have more than one, although Israeli families have an average of three children. How do parents allocate computer time during school hours to several children studying in different classrooms?

The closure of school leads to vast disparities of opportunities and potential social problems. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that English children in better-off families received a week and a half more home learning last month than children in the poorest households. Israel didn't conduct such a survey to my knowledge, but it is reasonable to assume that the results could be similar.

Having limited or no access to schooling reduces equality of opportunities and reduces an individual's future income stream.

Lost of future income

Studies written after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, during which most schools remained closed for weeks, showed that five years after the closure, over a third of the unschooled children were still lagging a year in their academic studies. The same was found in Australia after the 2009 "Black Saturday" bushfires. Children from affected areas performed worse than their peers in both literacy and numeracy tests for years after the event. A recent study by David Jaume and Alexander Willén found that Argentinian students affected by a 3-months school strike in the '90s were less likely to continue to higher education and earned 2-3% less on average than the non-affected students.

Those results were recently confirmed by the Global Labor Organization"The closures are expected to reduce learning and will lead to future losses in earnings and labor productivity." Every year of schooling increases lifetime earnings by 8-9%. The longest the schools stay closed, the most significant loss in future income will emerge.

Our future lies with the next generation

Shutting down schools for weeks or months has long term consequences. Israel's main richness is human capital, and we are preventing our young from being academically educated. Nations with less-educated populations are less productive, poorer, and more prone to dictatorship and corruption. Is the remedy worst than the cure?

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