March 14, 2020covid-19educationinformation agedebates with my daughters

The unequal consequences of the lockdown

Closing schools to prevent the spread of the pandemic was necessary, but it evoked different reactions from the three kids.

Deccan Herald This is from my Debates with My Daughters column that appeared in the Deccan Herald in 2019-20

When the news came, Victor was overjoyed. The government announced the closure of primary schools a week before his exams started. Not only did he find himself promoted to Grade 6 for not fault of his own, he got an additional month of summer holidays. He said he was going out to play and that we could expect him back in June. Before I could remind him again, he said that he knew he had to wash hands regularly and do social distancing. There have been reports of his sightings over the past few days.

This left the girls disgruntled. Airy pulled out the latest research showing how primary school children were at lowest risk from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and would almost certainly recover from Covid-19 if they were to contract it. Teenagers, in comparison, were ten times as much at risk. Given the empirical evidence, the girls argued, they should have been the ones to have their classes cancelled. It didn’t help that the government announced that secondary school exams should conclude by March 23rd, which meant that Airy’s exam timetable was suddenly compressed. With no study holidays between exams, how was she to complete the portions? Not only was the government’s decision ignoring facts, it was also inequitable.

A couple of days later came the announcement that secondary schools were to close too, except that is, for the purposes of holding examinations. This meant Fairy — who is a couple of years older — got off too, as her exams had ended a few days ago. This only left Airy with the task of going to school until March 23rd and write an exam each day. How could the world be so unfair? Wasn’t the government concerned about the health and safety of 7th and 8th graders? Was the SARS-CoV-2 virus scared of exams that it would avoid them? Why was she forced to study the whole year’s Hindi syllabus when both her younger brother and elder sister were having fun?

I’m not good at defending government policy but I tried to explain that primary kids were more likely to spread the contagion because of greater physical contact with each other and lesser ability to practice hand hygiene. This would cause them to spread the virus to older people even if it didn’t harm the kids themselves: a previous flu epidemic in the UK was controlled when schools were shut down. Also, despite data showing the 0-9 cohort would almost certainly recover from Covid-19, the general feeling in society was that little kids are vulnerable and in need of protection. Besides, primary school was unserious” and they could be promoted to the next grade without examinations and nothing much would change.

The only problem with this reasoning — as Airy was quick to point out — was that 11th and 12th graders who had finished their exams had their classes cancelled too. I had to agree that she was right but it is unlikely that there was an International Conspiracy to Torture Eight Graders. Thinking of our tax laws, I told her that government regulations were sometimes untethered to facts and could be unfair.

There are many more Debates with my Daughters here

I meant to conclude this column explaining why under such circumstances she should adopt the Zen mind, ignore her sentiments and focus on the works of Munshi Premchand and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. As I was writing this, an audible sigh of relief came from the general direction of her mother. The school had sent word that secondary school exams too were suspended.

Airy is asking if she can have Netflix on her phone.

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