After more than a year away from in-person instruction, there’s near-universal agreement that no matter what the state of the pandemic, K-12 schools, along with colleges and universities must open for in-person instruction this Fall. With no vaccine for students under the age of 12 and vaccine hesitancy still an issue among those eligible, how can administrators manage risk? Read on to find out…
In the Spring of 2020, 93 percent of individuals with school-aged children reported some form of virtual or “distance” learning as a part of the broader measures put in place by state and local governments to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Distance learning, however, has further exacerbated educational and health inequities that children and parents have been struggling with for years.
The National Education Association (NEA) conducted research on how students have been handling virtual learning. NEA’s key findings revealed that prior to the pandemic, 58 precent of students reported they were doing well academically; currently, only 32 percent believe they are doing well.
This decrease in self-reported academic performance can be attributed to the added stress that children have faced. For instance, the school closures highlighted the stark technological access disparities, also known as the “homework gap” as 15 percent of school-aged children were unable to log onto virtual classes and participate because of a lack of home broadband internet and computer devices.
In addition, one central aspect of in-person education that cannot be replicated are social interactions – critical to children’s educational and socioemotional development. Child Development Professor Taryn Morrissey summed it up well saying, “Children are going to pay for this for decades to come. They will with lower earnings, they will with less education, and they will with poorer health. And certain groups of children are going to pay more.”
The same administrators, educators and public health officials that have expressed concerns about in-person education during the pandemic are now urging for classrooms to reopen. However, what constitutes a safe process to do so is not always clear. The answer may lie in Artificial Intelligence (AI) based models.
Artificial Intelligence Scores an A+
Given the large number of schools and classrooms and the great diversity of environments, it can appear an immense challenge to consider all the factors and risks associated with in-classroom learning. Well, processing large amounts of data is the problem machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) were built to solve.
Harnessing the power of AI for reopening schools this Fall may put parents, students, and teachers at ease. AI has the power to analyze data on environmental conditions within schools associated with disease transmission risks as well as human actions, both of which are relevant to the spread of COVID-19. For instance, AI models can tease out the impact HVAC systems and natural ventilation, such as open windows, can have on airflow within the enclosed space of a classroom. And, yes, ML and AI can also estimate human activity within schools (specifically through the use of a class of computational models called agent based models).
School systems need to know the risk of disease transmission in an entire school as well as within each individual classroom. That is essential to develop mitigation strategies that work for all teachers and students within the school system – even those whose classrooms are in portables or “temporary” spaces. These strategies may involve some environmental upgrades potentially, but may also involve minor (read cost-free) changes to operational practices. Ultimately, allowing children and teachers to return to in-person education safely and reassuring parents.
To learn more about how the School Safety Index can return students to the classroom safely, see our recent video and read our white paper, Community Spread of COVID-19 – Children as Transmission Vectors?
This article was authored by Ajay K. Gupta, CISSP, MBA, CEO of HSR.health and Amanda M. Melvin, Public Health Analyst, HSR.health.