From Monday 8th March 2021, educational venues such as schools and colleges will open to all pupils with COVID-secure measures in place such as mass asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. Is this the right course of action? Is it too early to open schools, or is it long overdue?

Inevitably, this will ensure that things are back to normal as much as possible: pupils will be able to return to reap the benefits of face-to-face education, as well as the social aspect of schooling by seeing their friends. Human beings are a social species that relies on cooperation through social interaction to survive and thrive, so do not cope well being isolated. Solitary confinement is typically a punishment, not a way of life, which highlights the negative impact of prolonged isolation.

“I definitely prefer face-to-face learning in classrooms as I think you get more teacher input and it is just easier to keep on top of work with teachers able to see what you are doing better. ”

JV, a year 11 student

“School is simply just a better environment for learning as the teachers are actually there[to help].”

NM, a year 11 student

Three lockdowns have adversely affected education, as well as the mental and physical wellbeing of children and young people. From the Young Minds website where a survey carried out with 2,438 young people aged 13-25, between 26th January and 12th February 2021 showed that:

“79% of respondents agreed that their mental health would start to improve when most restrictions were lifted, but some expressed caution about restrictions being lifted too quickly and the prospect of future lockdowns.”

However, on the other hand, as great as getting back to normal is for everyone’s health, it will lead to a surge in infections with so many households mixing in confined spaces for hours. This is inevitable by the means of common sense, and lead to higher transmission of the virus. Higher transmission leads to a higher risk of mutation by nature- more variants, some of which may be extremely deadly. Children, despite apparently not suffering from severe symptoms, will also bring the virus home, unnecessarily exposing more individuals. Clearly, the normal we had led before led to a pandemic, so is not virus-secure- is ‘getting back to normal’ the best course of action?

A virus does not know groups- it would not care who you are, what you do. It is merciless, and will robotically execute the instructions coded into in its genes. Therefore, it is safer to take precautions, which luckily the government appears to have imposed as mandatory this time round, learning from previous occasions. The government has stated all pupils from year 7 are required to wear face coverings in all indoor settings, which should have been imposed the first time round as despite the stigma around masks, they work: masks are the cultural norm in Asia, where the case rate has remained near zero, partially due to the compulsory enforcement of face covering. In the West, compliance have been low, leading to spiraling cases. 

All students from year 7 will undertake a mass testing programme on return, with two rapid tests to use each week at home. This is because around one in three people are asymptomatic. 

The general consensus from peers have been mixed: some are delighted and 'cannot wait' to get back to school whilst others prefer the comfort and independence of online learning.

“Asymptomatic testing will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmission. Those who test positive will self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus.” 

In an ideal world, with these measures followed, everyone can get back to education, to normal. However, not only is there any measures for the 4.5 million primary school pupils in the UK, none of these measures are compulsory, meaning that people do not have to do it, suggesting a loophole. From personal experiences, living in an area with one of the highest rates in the country, large number of people flaunt the rules, making it seem as if it is norm. Compulsory measures are typically labelled as ‘totalitarian’, which describes dictatorship, associated negatively. However, this is not always the case. There will always be rulebreakers, which will jeopardise the efforts the majority have worked so hard for…. third lockdown in, is that fair?