In 1996, the Chicago Public School system introduced tough penalties for schools whose students achieved low reading scores. Schools with low scores would be placed on probation and threatened with being shut down.
Test scores did increase but unfortunately so did cheating by teachers. Putting so much pressure on one measure caused poor behaviour in other areas. A few years later some teachers were sacked.
Measuring things is important but if we focus too much on what we measure we can easily lose touch with other important things. We can see that in the coverage of the Coronavirus.
This week a young, 38 year old woman tragically died of Coronavirus. Her face and story were plastered all over the media.
Last week, two Australians, in their forties, died after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine but there was little coverage of who they were.
This is not an argument not to take a vaccine but it is a lesson that none of the choices in front of us are perfect, all involve risk and all involve the two certainties in life: death and taxes.
We are told that lockdowns will reduce the number of cases, and that is probably true, but lockdowns kill too, just in ways we do not normally measure.
We do not report, alongside the Covid cases, the number of marriages that have broken down, the number of small businesses that have gone to the wall and the number of people who have lost their jobs. These are all the silent victims of the government decisions to shut people in their homes.
Some have tried to measure the costs for these people from lockdown policies. A recent study in the United States, by economists and scientists from the University of Southern California and the Rand Corporation, found that lockdown policies may actually kill more than they save. As they found across 43 countries and all US states, “we find that following the implementation of SIP (“shelter in place” or lockdowns in our words) policies, excess mortality increases.”
The protests that erupted last weekend showed the frustration some have from forced isolation. The protestors were wrong to head to the streets during a pandemic but we would be wrong to ignore the human appeal for help.
The costs of lockdowns will become starker as more people are vaccinated. While our vaccination program has been slower than planned, over 70 per cent of older Australians have had at least one vaccine and almost all people in aged care homes are vaccinated. While there remain significant risks from
Coronavirus, they are much lower now than last year when no vaccines were available. The costs of forcing people to isolate are just as great, however.
I supported lockdowns last year but their cruel costs are now greater than their benefits.
These lockdowns cannot continue indefinitely in any case. We have to be honest that the vaccines will not stop Coronavirus. The evidence from other countries is that the vaccines can reduce hospitalisations and death but they do not stop the spread of Coronavirus. There have been over 260,000 new Coronavirus cases in the UK over the past week, and over 400 deaths, despite over half the people in the UK being fully vaccinated and nearly 70 per cent having at least one shot.
We need to prepare an exit strategy from Australia’s lockdown from the rest of the world. That does require more vaccines but it is also requires us discarding the naive mindset that we can escape all risk.
The best way to do that would be to look at the wider array of risks we face. Just like the Chicago school system, there is more to education than just test scores, and there is more to life than just the Coronavirus.