By Pauline Kerr
“School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days …
You wrote on my slate, ‘I love you so’
When we were a couple of kids.”
For the past year, school has been either the kitchen table with a frustrated parent trying to pinch hit as the child’s teacher/IT expert, or a classroom of masked kids for whom washing their hands is more important than completing their work.
Forget “reading and writing and ‘rithmetic” – the important words have been “pandemic, symptomatic and disinfect.” The pandemic golden rule is “distance!”
There has been no writing love notes on someone’s slate – all school gear must be kept separate from that of other students. Any attempt to write on another student’s slate would be greeted with questions about disinfecting hands, the chalk and the slate.
Even playing with friends is complicated. There are new rules about masks, and what activities are permitted. Little kids for whom hugging a friend is as natural as breathing, are monitored to ensure there is no body contact or even close proximity.
Forget about inviting a classmate over to play after school – definitely not allowed.
Children are remarkably resilient, but only a fool would think this is not affecting them, that everything will snap back to normal when COVID-19 is done.
Some children will be fine – primarily the ones who always do well in school, and who are fortunate in having access to a decent computer and good internet, not to mention a computer-literate and well-educated parent or grandparent ready to help.
There are too many who will not be. Some have a chaotic home environment with no good place to “do computer school;” others have trouble learning even in a conventional classroom with all kinds of help close at hand. And there are many kids who just need a bit of extra help, which is well nigh impossible when a teacher is dealing with technology issues and trying to keep a couple of dozen other little kids engaged.
Our provincial government and boards of education have done a commendable job of keeping our children physically safe during the pandemic. Psychologically, academically, socially and emotionally is another matter.
The pandemic has been hard on youngsters. They have missed out on class trips, milestone events like graduations, birthday parties and sports championships. Some have seen their hopes for a sports scholarship dashed. Some have lost touch with friends and have had to give up part-time jobs. They have lived with real fears about this pandemic for a year. To a little kid, that seems like forever.
A lot of resources have been devoted to education during the pandemic to ensure our children can keep learning – computers, internet, software and more. Teachers and IT people have pulled out all the stops. Schools and boards of education have been proactive in providing mental health information to students and their parents, along with pandemic-related material.
There are many countries where education has shut down completely for the past year, making our children truly fortunate. That said, at least all the children in less fortunate countries will be resuming school on a level playing field. This is not the case here.
The pandemic’s days are numbered, but for our education system, the hard work is about to begin. We cannot afford to write off a substantial portion of a whole generation of youngsters. To ensure they have good opportunities for post-secondary education, apprenticeships and careers, there will have to be remedial classes, vastly expanded summer school programs, psychological counselling, tutoring, mentoring, and a lot of reaching out to older kids who have pretty much dropped off the radar.
One can only hope that brainstorming is taking place now on how to help the children for whom the mix of extended vacations, on-line schooling and in-person learning has not worked. It will take a lot of resources, and even more than that, compassion, to get kids back on track and working at grade level.
Depending on the resilience of youth is not going to be enough.