Showing posts from July, 2020

Choice Comes with Responsibility

Almost half of the children in Fairfax county chose 2 days per week of face-to-face classes. With this choice, schools then have the responsibility to keep everyone (students, teachers and staff) safe while on campus. Although this translates only to about 25 percent occupancy, the risks are thought to be unacceptable. Now that the choice of going one hundred percent virtual has been made, this decision also comes with responsibility. That responsibility, of course, is primarily the education of our children in a virtual environment. And this is challenging. As research has shown, distance learning is a lot more inefficient than face-to-face learning. In a study involving an introductory physiology class, students perform poorly in exams that require comprehension when the content is delivered online. The scores are markedly lower for students in distance learning. 

In the above, two types of exams are used. MQ corresponds to questions that only require memory while CQ requires compreh…

"Things Are Different Now"

We are staying online. Georgetown University is. And so are my children who are currently enrolled in Fairfax County public schools. It is therefore clear now what we need to plan for this coming Fall. This is not the first time, however, since we already had a taste of distance learning last Spring when COVID-19 closed schools abruptly. This time, however, we have the opportunity to prepare. And at Georgetown, we are asked to think about the new modality of teaching and learning. And since we had some experience last Spring, we are given the opportunity to look back and reflect on what our students have to say. Our students want flexibility without sacrificing academic rigor. The students also want transparency and communication, not a one-way thing, but one that includes them as active participants. And since our lectures or meetings are on Zoom, we are also reminded of this new condition, the "Zoom fatigue". There are several reasons why staring at a screen for some time …

Children and COVID-19: The Difference Between Mainstream Media and Primary Literature

Browsing through Facebook, I saw a post that links to an article in Axios. The post has this clear conclusion:  Middle and high schoolers can spread coronavirus as effectively as adults. That, however, is not what the cited literature or study is saying.

The following table summarizes the data from the primary literature cited by Axios

The data above come from contact tracing. Children have very limited contacts presumably because of school closures. On the other hand, adults (20 years or older) have plenty of contacts. Measuring the rate of infection obviously depends on how many contacts (the denominator in %positive). The higher the number of contacts, the infection rate will appear lower. Of course, the higher number of contacts testing positive leads to a higher infection rate. The lower number of contacts from individuals 10-19 years old becomes more obvious with the following table (taken from the same paper):

With the disparity in the number of contacts traced for the age group…

Pandemic May Lead to the Rise of Shadow Education in the US

With most schools preparing for one hundred percent virtual classes this coming Fall, parents may begin looking for alternatives. Before the pandemic, students in the United States have already been participating in private supplementary education. COVID-19 may therefore catalyze a rise in this shadow educational system which may exacerbate existing gaps in education. A study that looks at about 18,000 ninth grade students back in 2009 already shows a significant number of students (about 18 percent) participating in out-of-school programs. With parents anxious about their children being left behind, these numbers are likely to increase. The study finds that Blacks and Hispanics attend these private programs for "catching up" while Asians generally "aim to get ahead". 

Whenever a new market arises, of course, there are opportunities. A Martial arts school in Fairfax county, for example, tries to respond to this expected demand.

As educators, we must be vigilant with …

Children Under Age 12 Do Not Transmit SARS-CoV-2

The deadline for choosing between "virtual only" and "in-person" classes for Fairfax county parents and teachers is tomorrow. Data on how schools contribute to the spread of COVID-19 is unfortunately scarce. There is, however, a town in France, Crépy-en-Valois, that has recently provided an answer to this important question. The study, not yet peer-reviewed, has been made available in MedRxiv. Although the paper is still in a pre-print stage and should not be used to guide clinical practice, it may be useful as we try to deliberate on what to choose for Fairfax county schools. The study authored by a group of epidemiologists and virologists from Paris has also been mentioned in a Sciencearticle that summarizes what we now know about COVID-19 and children.

Out of the 1340 individuals included in the study in Crépy-en-Valois, 139 are infected with SARS-CoV-2. That is 100,000 people if the total population is 1,000,000. New York, the state that has the most cases, has …

This September Would Be Different From Last March

In March, classes in schools switched to virtual. It definitely came with huge challenges. Fairfax County public schools, for example, failed miserably in the first couple of weeks with its Blackboard platform crashing with the load. One might think then that this coming September might be a bit smoother. This would not be necessarily true. I likewise transferred to online with the course that I was teaching last March, but there was one thing that made it easier, which, unfortunately, would not be present this September. Last March, my students and I already knew each other. I had been with them for at least a couple of months. We have had two exams and plenty of both homework and classwork. This September, I would not have met my students yet. In K-12 schools, one could imagine the extra challenge for students who would just be starting either in kindergarten, middle school, or high school. These children would not have attended any class in their new school. All the teachers would …

Trump Cannot Have It Both Ways

Community transmission of COVID-19 needs to be arrested first if K-12 schools are to reopen this coming September. It is more than a month away and plenty can be done now to halt the spread of the virus. If parents wish their children to attend school this coming school year than all effort must be exerted to stop the coronavirus. Wearing masks when social distancing of six feet is not possible needs to be faithfully followed. Those who are travelling must adhere to self-quarantine for two weeks when they return home. Bars and churches should remain closed. Gatherings of more than 10 people in limited space should be avoided. Everyone must continue to practice good hygiene. Fairfax county is in a good position to control the virus at this point as these measures appear to be working quite well. While we debate on how schools should operate, we need to focus on how to halt community transmission. Trump cannot force schools to reopen without supporting measures that halt the spread of t…

Evidence-based Research Tells Us We Should Open Schools

There is currently an active discussion on what schools should do this coming Fall. I agree that the decision should be based on evidence. The burden of proof rests on school closures since the negative impact of children staying home is crystal clear. The mere fact that caretakers and health-care workers are stifled by school closures is very important to consider especially when hospitals and homes for the elderly are already facing difficult times. Whether school closures are effective in reducing the transmission of the novel coronavirus needs to be addressed. And it is to this question that research can provide an answer. Without any benefit of helping control the spread of COVID-19, school closure is simply damaging society. With almost half a year and more than a hundred countries affected, we have data that can help measure the effect of school closures on mitigating COVID-19. At this moment, research shows that school closures have little or no significant impact on the pande…

Based on Good Data, Fairfax Should Open Schools

There is recent news regarding hundreds of children getting infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Texas, but one must take into account that there are more than 12000 daycare centers that have remained open in that state. The new cases (307 children and 643 staff members) come from 668 childcare locations. These numbers are important to consider because this translates to less than one child and about one staff member per location where a case has been detected. More than 11000 centers have not reported a case. It therefore remains clear that children are not significantly contributing to the transmission of COVID-19. Adult-to-adult transmission is dominant which means schools can safely reopen as long as adults maintain social distancing and wear masks. It is true that data from the United States is lacking so it is reasonable to be skeptical as a lot of things are still unknown. However, there are countries around the world that have good and thus, reliable data. Iceland and Luxembourg are ex…