Blended learning in schools can significantly reduce the spread of Covid-19: Study | Health

According to a study conducted in the United States, blended learning using alternate school days for children offers a significant reduction in the community spread of COVID-19. (Also read: 8 reasons why your child is getting sick after school resumes)

The research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, shows that shutting down completely in favor of remote learning, however, offers little additional benefit over the hybrid option.

The finding will help policymakers in the event of another wave of COVID-19 or a similar infectious disease, the researchers said.

“At the start of the pandemic, when school closures were becoming the norm, many debated the pros and cons of this measure,” said Pinar Keskinocak, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, and lead researcher of the study.

“Are we getting enough benefit to outweigh the social costs and educational impacts? This research shows that there is a benefit in reducing infections, particularly in the absence of effective pharmaceutical interventions, and the most of the benefits can be achieved with a hybrid approach,” Keskinocak said in a statement.

The study is particularly relevant to the early days of an infectious disease outbreak when policymakers face the difficult decision to enact school closures in their respective districts.

Using an agent-based simulation model of the spread of COVID-19, researchers projected the impact of various school reopening strategies: full closure, alternating school days when a cohort attended in person twice a week and another group on opposite days, younger children only and regularly.

The results showed that compared to reopening schools with regular attendance, the percentage of the infected population decreased by 13, 11, 9 and 6% with each respective strategy, the researchers said.

They concluded that some level of closure – younger children only, alternate days and completely distant – provides a significant reduction in community-wide infections.

The benefit of full closure over a hybrid approach, however, was minimal. The assumption in all cases was that people who had contracted the virus would stay home, the researchers said.

“The added benefit of full school closure over hybrid was relatively small,” Kestinocak said.

“Implementing an alternate day model can be challenging, but could have public health benefits early in the pandemic or during a new wave, also providing social and learning benefits,” said the scientific.

Reopening schools following a regular reopening strategy would lead to increased deaths, hospitalizations and infections, the researchers said.

Hybrid in-person and online reopening strategies, particularly if offered as an option for families and teachers who prefer to register, provide a good balance to reduce the spread of infection compared to the regular reopening strategy , while ensuring access to in-person education, they added.

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Norma A. Roth