Published time: 05 June 2020
Authors: Alberto Gandolfi
More than one billion students are out of school because of Covid-19, forced to a remote learning that has several drawbacks and has been hurriedly arranged; in addition, most countries are currently uncertain on how to plan school activities for the 2020-2021 school year; all of this makes learning and education some of the biggest world issues of the current pandemic. Unfortunately, due to the length of the incubation period of Covid-19, full opening of schools seems to be impractical till a vaccine is available. In order to support the possibility of some in-person learning, we study a mathematical model of the diffusion of the epidemic due to school opening, and evaluate plans aimed at containing the extra Covid-19 cases due to school activities while ensuring an adequate number of in-class learning periods. We consider a SEAIR model with an external source of infection and a suitable loss function; after a realistic parameter selection, we numerically determine optimal school opening strategies by simulated annealing. It turns out that blended models, with almost periodic alternations of in-class and remote teaching days or weeks, are generally optimal. Besides containing Covid-19 diffusion, these solutions could be pedagogically acceptable, and could also become a driving model for the society at large. In a prototypical example, the optimal strategy results in the school opening 90 days out of 200 with the number of Covid-19 cases among the individuals related to the school increasing by about 66%, instead of the about 250% increase that would have been a consequence of full opening.
Planning of School Teaching during COVID-19