Lessons from school in this time of COVID

As the leaders of tomorrow head back to school after a largely tumultuous year, now is as good a time as any to attempt to make up for lost opportunities — and ‘create’ better people.

Source: Ministry of Education

Source: Ministry of Education

Much has been, and is being, said about the preparedness of the authorities, and the education sector in general, when it has come to going back to school after a pandemic that has largely wreaked havoc on schools & the education system. On top of that, the demands of home schooling has placed quite the strain on the relationships between parents & children, and the concerns of the latter tends usually to remain somewhat unaddressed.

Parents in lockdown

While some parents may have been lucky enough to witness the sudden onset of the independence of their offspring, a significant majority were stuck at home catering to the ever increasing demand for their time in terms of being teaching assistants while also meeting work deadlines and attending Zoom meetings in-between art lesson demonstrations and the preparation of school-break-snacks — on top of the usual daily parental duties.

Some of them thrived whereas most were left, understandably, stretched thin. Yet as children go back to school, it is okay to feel a sense of relief of going back to ‘normalcy’. That sense is not a rejection of the closeness felt during the less hectic moments of the lockdown, that of coming together as family units in the face of uncertainty in the changing world, which was an overwhelmingly positive aspect of the particular predicament.

If anything, what parents should be striving for more, and showing relief towards, are the opportunities for closeness that have been identified within those windows of interactions while stuck at home, and to retain them and build on them while the kids get back to their friends and teachers.

The pandemic, as devastating as it has been, has allowed for the opportunity, and space, to recognise some failings in terms of emotional connectedness. Moving forward, it is important to recognise which aspects need personal focus — for most it will undoubtedly be to strengthen familial bonds, as opposed to, for most if not all, dwelling on the misplaced guilt of feeling relief at some form of normalcy.

Looking forward to what else needs fixing, and working at finding remedies and possible solutions for what the kids, or students, have lost out on in the past, is also key.

The reconnecting

While the past year might have offered some children the opportunity to build resilience and independence in terms of having to ‘learn to learn’ online and to study, and retain, material through their own efforts, parents and authorities should recognise clearly what students have lost and try as best possible to ‘compensate’ for those losses or at the very least apply principles, policies, and systems to ensure that the fallout from any similar deprivation is nowhere near the same as this past ‘year of COVID’.

Allowing, as much as possible, for an atmosphere of interacting and working with their peers can prove formative in building leadership skills while also encouraging the ‘team ethic’ of working well with others and learning from each other in an environment where making mistakes is seen more as part of the process of growth — and where failures, as well as successes, spur encouragement rather than disappointment or judgement. Schools should be champions of not just leadership, but collaboration as well.

This is not to say that the individualistic aspects should be ignored. In the past year school captains, association presidents, sports captains and other leaders were left with no teams to lead, significantly less objectives to achieve and little space to make an impact.

For some, who would go on to leave the school system within this past year, there may be little remedy that the system can provide; for them the parents, and the ‘family unit’, might hold the key in terms of creating opportunities, or space, to allow for them to apply themselves to the best of their abilities. The point is to offer greater moral support, guidance, and counselling, being there for them when they need it, but not deciding for them. 

For others those who are still in school, faculty and officials should look to provide ample opportunity to compensate for time lost, perhaps even more so than to ‘catch up academically’ but to catch up socially and emotionally so students will have a more robust foundation for the former in the medium to long term.

Coming back better

Connecting with peers, and to the world at large, will leave more students in a better position to move forward with the right speed. While it has been a significant and sometimes overwhelming drawback, the pandemic has also highlighted the value of working together — while sometimes in compromise yet most of the time in consensus. It has also taught us the importance of individual expression — not just in isolation but as contributions to group think to better serve varied portions, wants and needs.

The key aspect of moving forward should not be to just going back to how it was before but in effect to ‘going back better’ based on the data we have seen. The generation that is being nurtured to inherit the world of tomorrow have gone through unprecedented challenges, breaking new grounds of social interaction and education. They are experiencing a world their parents did not intend for them, a world everyone had to learn to deal with, yet with this awareness, it is up to communities to ensure the systemic failures that were exposed are being dealt with properly. Mental health has been taking centre stage for a few decades already, and the detrimental effects of a neglected childhood can be seen all too clearly.

Children deserve a chance to achieve their full potentials, to explore in ever safer, more nurturing environments, and to ensure that this ‘forced reset’ on society is utilised properly. Policy makers, educators, and parents should be looking to afford children every opportunity that previous generations may have missed out on, and to explore the possible evolutions to both the education system and familial connections, to create a better, more compassionate generation.

Editor’s note

To all the students who are going back to school, beginning their academic year 2021/2022, this publication wishes you all well. Good luck, God speed, stay safe and, physically & mentally, healthy.

Carpe diem.

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