Minister: Effectiveness of distance learning not proven scientifically

An empty classroom (photo is illustrative).
An empty classroom (photo is illustrative). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

At the beginning of the school year, it is planned to avoid sending schools to full distance learning, because the level of vaccination of teachers is high and previous experiments with sending schools to distance learning did not find any scientific justification.

The Minister of Education Liina Kersna explained that if in the last academic year one infected person meant quarantining the whole class as close contacts, then this academic year it will not be done anymore.

"We have made a fundamental decision in the government that there will no longer be sending home all close contacts in educational institutions. We will try to proactively test close contacts twice and people with positive test results will stay home with those who receive a positive test result. In the past, if there was one patient in the class, for example, the whole class had to go home - we will try to avoid it," Kersna said.

Even in the run-up to last school year, the government's plan was to keep schools open for as long as possible, but then some local government leaders showed enthusiasm and sent schools to distance learning on their own initiative as a preventive measure. This should not happen again, Kersna confirmed, adding that according to current knowledge, there is no scientific justification for this.

"The head of the school alone cannot decide that the school will go on distance learning. This must be negotiated with the ministry and the Health Board. Based on today's scientific knowledge, there is no reason to do so. This is also supported by the fact that when we were forced to direct all schools to distance learning, then almost 40 percent of all outbreaks were outbreaks of educational institutions. When schools were at distance learning, teachers were being vaccinated. When at one point we were able to open schools before the end of the school year, the outbreak volume of educational institutions remained exactly the same as when schools were closed," Kersna said.

Kersna admitted that she, along with experts, was afraid of an increase in positive cases when opening schools, but this did not happen.

"The reason is that at that time more than 60 percent of employees were vaccinated in schools. Today these numbers are much higher, today almost half of 16-17-year-olds are vaccinated, a third of 12-15-year-olds are vaccinated, but these percentages will definitely increase," Kersna said.

The proportion of schoolchildren who are vaccinated is currently growing the fastest of all age groups.

In order to vaccinate students more smoothly, many schools offer the opportunity to vaccinate themselves on the premises before the start of the school year, and from there onwards, this work will continue with the help of school nurses.

But what to do with students who would like to be vaccinated but their parents do not allow it?

"Under the Law of Obligations Act, children have the right to receive health care if the health care provider thinks that the child is mature enough to understand the various risks. Vaccinating in school, however, we have to ask permission from a parent. When the parent doesn't agree, the child can turn to his family doctor for consultation," Kersna said.

In case of infections, vaccinated students are not considered as close contacts and they are not under the obligation to perform a coronavirus test. However, by the decision of the Scientific Council, even those under the age of 12 as close contacts are not be tested or sent in self-isolation. The obligation to test arises in children under 12 years of age only if the symptoms of the disease appear.

To date, an average of 72 percent of the teaching staff has been vaccinated, although the figures vary considerably from region to region. The lowest vaccination level is in Ida-Virumaa (60 percent), but it is also low in Valga and Võrumaa.

Teachers who have not been vaccinated will be required to undergo rapid tests once a week. Testing is funded by the state. The obligation of rapid testing does not extend to students, but to employees in hobby education.

However, Kersna stated that the delta strain creates uncertainty, so the government must be prepared for surprises, which may mean the need to review decisions.

"The recommendation is to make decisions for schools by region, taking into account the level of vaccination in the region and the school. Today, we do not yet have a matrix that takes into account the proportion of those vaccinated," Kersna admitted.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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