The spike in the number of COVID-19 cases globally has prompted many countries to either reintroduce lockdown measures or, at the very least, contemplate it. Although the transmission trend has seen lower hospitalization rates, it has sparked panic, with many calling to protect the vulnerable who can’t be vaccinated, particularly young children.
In turn, the push for remote learning has returned. To do this is a huge mistake because the reality is that we are robbing them of crucial formative experiences.
COVID-19 is here to stay. This terrorizing virus has claimed many precious lives while altering how we live. Regulating human interaction will not magically disappear. The pandemic paralyzed our actions, but is now becoming redundant and dangerous.
Effective vaccines are in place, and we must take stock of the facts and act responsibly without jeopardizing future posterity.
At the heart of every lockdown debate, a recurring question is asked: what is our responsibility towards our children?
Safety, of course, dominates, but instinct kicks in, and we automatically translate this into isolating our kids so that they don’t get sick. But, as periods of isolation extend and as children lose essential social and emotional skills, the question becomes: does safety entail eradicating invaluable skills?
The tension between our instincts to keep children safe versus the push to move on with our lives beyond the confines of one’s home is healthy. We need discourse to weigh the pros and cons of both positions, ultimately resulting in a nuanced perception of actions that can best uphold children’s well-being.
With little interaction with their peers, we know that children suffered immensely during lockdowns. Their social and psychological well-being deteriorated to varying degrees. We know we cannot yet fully measure the extent of damage caused by extended periods of enforced isolation.
Online education proved to be a lifeline for salvaging some academic skills. Nevertheless, even for the privileged students who had access to technology that allowed them to attain those baseline skills, the disruption to their routines, the limited social interactions, and the unlimited screen time impacted their progress.
As a teacher, I witnessed first-hand self-discovery opportunities thwarted and the establishment of communal bonds that allows students to flourish suffering too.
Before the beginning of the previous academic year, a staff meeting was held at my school to ascertain the importance of student academic achievement over other non-academic goals. It made sense with the migration of our teaching to online and its limitations. We consciously decided to prioritize academic learning over social and emotional attainment.
In this academic year, pupils were present on campus. A survey revealed that older students have been facing more difficulties integrating into the school community.
As a working mother, I’ve struggled to establish a structure to engage with my young children in their online classes. They resented the fact that they weren’t allowed to go to school, believing that while at home, there was no need to do schoolwork.
For them mixing the public life of the classroom with the privacy of their home didn’t fit.
When my children returned to campus, my son initially assumed bullying tendencies that gratefully his teachers handled well and rectified. My daughter suffered from some loneliness because she couldn’t fit in, but her teachers could remedy the rift between her and her friends.
When education is entirely online, good teachers can convey academic skills and assess them. Still, when teachers are with students inside the classroom, they can gauge the well-being of each child and help them achieve the empathy necessary to assimilate within the school environment fully.
Schools are microcosms where children acquire the necessary skills to participate in the social macrocosm. Perhaps we should consider that we are eradicating a child’s ability to participate in society properly in the future with every school closure.