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      Modeling Reading Ability Gain in Kindergarten Children during COVID-19 School Closures

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          Abstract

          By 15 April 2020, more than 1.5 billion students worldwide experienced school closures in an effort to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), during the worldwide coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. These interruptions in formal in-person educational experiences caused adverse consequences on school-age children’s academic outcomes. Using a pre-existing database, we calculated changes in children’s reading ability without formal education (i.e., the summer months). The resultant models predicted that the rate of reading ability gain in kindergarten children during COVID-19 school closures without formal in-person education will decrease 66% (2.46 vs. 7.17 points/100 days), compared to the business-as-usual scenario, resulting in a 31% less reading ability gain from 1 January 2020 to 1 September 2020. Additionally, the model predicted that kindergarten children who have books read to them daily would have 2.3 points less loss (42%) compared to those who do not, who are predicted to have a 5.6-point loss during the same time period. Even though reading books to children will not substitute the critical role of formal education in teaching children how to read, families, educators, and policy makers can promote this simple strategy to facilitate and maintain reading ability gain during school closures, which may be a common occurrence as nations see the public health benefits of physical distancing for the current and future pandemic outbreaks.

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          Mitigate the effects of home confinement on children during the COVID-19 outbreak

          In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, the Chinese Government has ordered a nationwide school closure as an emergency measure to prevent spreading of the infection. Public activities are discouraged. The Ministry of Education estimates that more than 220 million children and adolescents are confined to their homes; this includes 180 million primary and secondary students and 47 million preschool children). 1 Thanks to the strong administrative system in China, the emergency home schooling plan has been rigorously implemented. 2 Massive efforts are being made by schools and teachers at all levels to create online courses and deliver them through TV broadcasts and the internet in record time. The new virtual semester has just started in many parts of the country, and various courses are offered online in a well organised manner. These actions are helping to alleviate many parents' concerns about their children's educational attainment by ensuring that school learning is largely undisrupted. Although these measures and efforts are highly commendable and necessary, there are reasons to be concerned because prolonged school closure and home confinement during a disease outbreak might have negative effects on children's physical and mental health.3, 4 Evidence suggests that when children are out of school (eg, weekends and summer holidays), they are physically less active, have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and less favourable diets, resulting in weight gain and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness.3, 5 Such negative effects on health are likely to be much worse when children are confined to their homes without outdoor activities and interaction with same aged friends during the outbreak. Perhaps a more important but easily neglected issue is the psychological impact on children and adolescents. Stressors such as prolonged duration, fears of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate information, lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends, and teachers, lack of personal space at home, and family financial loss can have even more problematic and enduring effects on children and adolescents. 4 For example, Sprang and Silman 6 showed that the mean posttraumatic stress scores were four times higher in children who had been quarantined than in those who were not quarantined. Furthermore, the interaction between lifestyle changes and psychosocial stress caused by home confinement could further aggravate the detrimental effects on child physical and mental health, which could cause a vicious circle. To mitigate the consequences of home confinement, the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the community, school, and parents need to be aware of the downside of the situation and do more to effectively address these issues immediately. Experiences learned from previous outbreaks can be valuable for designing a new programme to tackle these issues in China. 7 The Chinese Government needs to raise the awareness of potential physical and mental health impacts of home confinement during this unusual period. The government should also provide guidelines and principles in effective online learning and ensure that the contents of the courses meet the educational requirements. Yet it is also important not to overburden the students. The government might mobilise existing resources, perhaps involving NGOs, and create a platform for gathering the best online education courses about healthy lifestyle and psychosocial support programmes available for schools to choose from. For example, in addition to innovative courses for a better learning experience, promotional videos can be useful to motivate children to have a healthy lifestyle at home by increasing physical activities, having a balanced diet, regular sleep pattern, and good personal hygiene. 8 To make these educational materials truly effective, they must be age-appropriate and attractive. They require professional expertise and real resources to create. Communities can serve as valuable resources in managing difficulties of family matters. For instance, parents' committees can work together to bridge the needs of students with school requirements and to advocate for children's rights to a healthy lifestyle. Psychologists can provide online services to cope with mental health issues caused by domestic conflicts, tension with parents, and anxiety from becoming infected. 7 Social workers can play an active role in helping parents cope with family issues arising from the situation, when needed. Such a social safety net could be particularly useful for disadvantaged or single-parent families, 9 but action is needed to make it accessible to them. Schools have a critical role, not only in delivering educational materials to children, but in offering an opportunity for students to interact with teachers and obtain psychological counselling. Schools can actively promote a health-conscious schedule, good personal hygiene, encourage physical activities, appropriate diet, and good sleep habits, and integrate such health promotion materials into the school curriculum. 3 A Chinese child studies from home during the COVID-19 outbreak © 2020 Fan Jiang 2020 Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active. In the event of home confinement, parents are often the closest and best resource for children to seek help from. Close and open communication with children is the key to identifying any physical and psychological issues and to comforting children in prolonged isolation.10, 11 Parents are often important role models in healthy behaviour for children. Good parenting skills become particularly crucial when children are confined at home. Besides monitoring child performance and behaviour, parents also need to respect their identity and needs, and they need to help children develop self-discipline skills. Children are constantly exposed to epidemic-related news, so having direct conversations with children about these issues could alleviate their anxiety and avoid panic.10, 11 Home confinement could offer a good opportunity to enhance the interaction between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve their self-sufficiency skills. With the right parenting approaches, family bonds can be strengthened, and child psychological needs met. 12 Since the COVID-19 epidemic is no longer confined to China, 13 school closure and home confinement-related issues also become relevant in other affected countries. As children are vulnerable to environmental risks and their physical health, mental health, and productivity in adult life is deeply rooted in early years, 14 close attention and great efforts are required to address these emergency issues effectively and avoid any long-term consequences in children. Any sustainable programme must involve local professionals to culturally adapt the interventions to the administrative system and to the regional and community environment, and it must develop contextually relevant material for children and adolescents. 7 Finally, children have little voices to advocate for their needs. The latest Commission 14 on the future of the world's children urges a holistic strategy in preparing for the uncertainty that all children are facing. It is the responsibility and keen interests of all stakeholders, from governments to parents, to ensure that the physical and mental impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic on children and adolescents are kept minimal. Immediate actions are warranted.
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            School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review

            Summary In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, 107 countries had implemented national school closures by March 18, 2020. It is unknown whether school measures are effective in coronavirus outbreaks (eg, due to severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], Middle East respiratory syndrome, or COVID-19). We undertook a systematic review by searching three electronic databases to identify what is known about the effectiveness of school closures and other school social distancing practices during coronavirus outbreaks. We included 16 of 616 identified articles. School closures were deployed rapidly across mainland China and Hong Kong for COVID-19. However, there are no data on the relative contribution of school closures to transmission control. Data from the SARS outbreak in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore suggest that school closures did not contribute to the control of the epidemic. Modelling studies of SARS produced conflicting results. Recent modelling studies of COVID-19 predict that school closures alone would prevent only 2–4% of deaths, much less than other social distancing interventions. Policy makers need to be aware of the equivocal evidence when considering school closures for COVID-19, and that combinations of social distancing measures should be considered. Other less disruptive social distancing interventions in schools require further consideration if restrictive social distancing policies are implemented for long periods.
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              COVID-19, school closures, and child poverty: a social crisis in the making

              While coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread across the globe, many countries have decided to close schools as part of a physical distancing policy to slow transmission and ease the burden on health systems. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that 138 countries have closed schools nationwide, and several other countries have implemented regional or local closures. These school closures are affecting the education of 80% of children worldwide. Although scientific debate is ongoing with regard to the effectiveness of school closures on virus transmission, 1 the fact that schools are closed for a long period of time could have detrimental social and health consequences for children living in poverty, and are likely to exacerbate existing inequalities. We discuss two mechanisms through which school closures will affect poor children in the USA and Europe. First, school closures will exacerbate food insecurity. For many students living in poverty, schools are not only a place for learning but also for eating healthily. Research shows that school lunch is associated with improvements in academic performance, whereas food insecurity (including irregular or unhealthy diets) is associated with low educational attainment and substantial risks to the physical health and mental wellbeing of children.2, 3 The number of children facing food insecurity is substantial. According to Eurostat, 6·6% of households with children in the European Union—5·5% in the UK—cannot afford a meal with meat, fish, or a vegetarian equivalent every second day. Comparable estimates in the USA suggest that 14% of households with children had food insecurity in 2018. 4 Second, research suggests that non-school factors are a primary source of inequalities in educational outcomes. The gap in mathematical and literacy skills between children from lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds often widens during school holiday periods. 5 The summer holiday in most American schools is estimated to contribute to a loss in academic achievement equivalent to one month of education for children with low socioeconomic status; however, this effect is not observed for children with higher socioeconomic status. 6 Summer holidays are also associated with a setback in mental health and wellbeing for children and adolescents. 7 Although the current school closures differ from summer holidays in that learning is expected to continue digitally, the closures are likely to widen the learning gap between children from lower-income and higher-income families. Children from low-income households live in conditions that make home schooling difficult. Online learning environments usually require computers and a reliable internet connection. In Europe, a substantial number of children live in homes in which they have no suitable place to do homework (5%) or have no access to the internet (6·9%). Furthermore, 10·2% of children live in homes that cannot be heated adequately, 7·2% have no access to outdoor leisure facilities, and 5% do not have access to books at the appropriate reading level. 8 In the USA, an estimated 2·5% of students in public schools do not live in a stable residence. In New York city, where a large proportion of COVID-19 cases in the USA have been observed, one in ten students were homeless or experienced severe housing instability during the previous school year. 9 While learning might continue unimpeded for children from higher income households, children from lower income households are likely to struggle to complete homework and online courses because of their precarious housing situations. Beyond the educational challenges, however, low-income families face an additional threat: the ongoing pandemic is expected to lead to a severe economic recession. Previous recessions have exacerbated levels of child poverty with long-lasting consequences for children's health, wellbeing, and learning outcomes. 10 Policy makers, school administrators, and other local officials thus face two challenges. First, the immediate nutrition and learning needs of poor students must continue to be addressed. The continuation of school-provided meals is essential in preventing widespread food insecurity. Teachers should also consider how to adapt their learning materials for students without access to wireless internet, a computer, or a place to study. Second, local and national legislators must prepare for the considerable challenges that await when the pandemic subsides. At the local level, an adequate response must include targeted education and material support for children from low-income households to begin to close the learning gap that is likely to have occurred. From a policy perspective, legislators should consider providing regular income support for households with children during the impending economic crisis to prevent a deepening and broadening of child poverty. Without such action, the current health crisis could become a social crisis that will have long-lasting consequences for children in low-income families.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Int J Environ Res Public Health
                Int J Environ Res Public Health
                ijerph
                International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
                MDPI
                1661-7827
                1660-4601
                01 September 2020
                September 2020
                : 17
                : 17
                : 6371
                Affiliations
                [1 ]School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Massachusetts General Hospital, Institute of Health Professions, Boston, MA 02129, USA
                [2 ]School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA; pku.quhang@ 123456gmail.com (H.Q.); zhangruixiong@ 123456gmail.com (R.Z.)
                [3 ]ClimaCell Inc, Boston, MA 02210, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Correspondence: xbao@ 123456mghihp.edu (X.B.); thogan@ 123456mghihp.edu (T.P.H.)
                Author information
                https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7448-2979
                https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2924-2826
                https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8597-8969
                https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2160-6995
                Article
                ijerph-17-06371
                10.3390/ijerph17176371
                7504163
                32882960
                323a25e9-f335-40b4-925d-5fbec4ab5e77
                © 2020 by the authors.

                Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

                History
                : 15 July 2020
                : 26 August 2020
                Categories
                Article

                Public health
                reading development,school closure,children,covid-19,read to child,mitigation,book,parent–child interaction,policy making,education

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