Margaret Pärli: I have done everything I can to attend school

Margaret Pärli.
Margaret Pärli. Source: Indrek Pärli

Tallinn said on Wednesday that students of grades 4-8 will remain on remote learning for at least one week following the October school break. Yet, the education minister has repeatedly said that remote learning is a last resort and definitely not the state's first preference. The decision has many shortcomings, eighth grade student of the Tallinn French Lyceum Margaret Pärli writes.

Our family has done everything we can to make sure I could attend school and get a good education. My parents are vaccinated, and I was vaccinated as soon as it became an option. My school sports a very high vaccination rate.

But what is the city of Tallinn doing? Figuratively speaking, the entire class gets an F because five students didn't do their homework. What are the rest being punished for? And how is the virus supposed to pass sitting at home if the rate of vaccination is not climbing? Perhaps city leaders should concentrate on boosting vaccination in all schools, while allowing students to attend.

The first mistake concerns timing. Remote study would have been much easier to organize had it been declared just a week earlier, instead of in the middle of a nationwide school holiday.

When are students supposed to retrieve their study aids from school? Do we need to carry our heavy books home during the school break or will lessons be canceled on Monday that would also hinder study? It seems these decisions will be up to schools, while remote learning also brings other problems.

All EU citizens over the age of 12 have been blessed with the opportunity of being vaccinated, either with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Coronavirus certificates make it possible to visit public places, go to the movies, museums, restaurants etc. Clearly it should reduce one's likelihood of catching the coronavirus and having to study from home.

And yet, Tallinn city government's remote learning decision includes students of grades 6-8 most of whom are between 12 and 15 years of age and as such can get vaccinated.

Children 12 and older were allowed to get vaccinated on June 14, whereas the possibility also exists in schools. Therefore, what was the goal of vaccination from an educational point of view? It was first and foremost meant to allow children to attend school in the new academic year.

It would make more sense to put grades 1-5 on remote learning as students there cannot yet be vaccinated in the EU, as well as in some cases people over 12 who haven't vaccinated yet. It would also be logical to require people to wear masks in schools, especially those who have not been vaccinated for various reasons. Such decisions have not been made in Tallinn.

Deputy Mayor Vadim Belobrovtsev said on the "Uudis+" radio program that while he understands children staying home inconveniences parents, people need to understand that decisions that are effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus cannot be pleasant or popular. The deputy mayor added that it is unthinkable for Tallinn to distinguish between schools and order remote learning only where the infection rate is high.

"We cannot do that because that would leave us with schools where students have access to contact study and those where they don't. The biggest risk is having an outbreak in one school and positive (infection) dynamics in another only for it to change rapidly the next day. To ensure even quality of education and make sure the situation would not change in schools that are stable, this is what we decided together with heads of schools," the deputy mayor said.

It is an example of bad management. The coronavirus period is not one for chasing social and educational equality. It is completely normal to make a difference between schools that have a higher infection rate and lower vaccination rate and those where it is the other way around.

The goal is to keep students in school for as long as possible and not burden them with remote study. For me, vaccination stood for access to a fully fledged education. In a situation where the ministry has repeatedly said that remote learning is the last resort, why is the city so quick to make the decision?

This logic seems to suggest that the deputy mayor believes a week of remote learning can slow the infection rate, while a day of physically attending school could drastically hike it.

Statistics serves the purpose of demonstrating which schools have managed to keep the virus in check and which haven't been as lucky. Students who have gotten vaccinated have not done so to travel and pursue a hedonistic lifestyle as was possible before COVID-19 reached Estonia.

Here we are – contact study is banned, also for schools that have found success in managing risks. What was the point then? And what more can I do to be allowed to attend school, physically and on location?


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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