17Feb Chris McDonnell’s column looks at Children in Lockdown

It’s about our future

Chris McDonnell CT February 19th 2021

There have been many casualties brought about by COVID, lives lost, families broken, businesses closed. Society has been brutally and hastily re-arranged with the impact of lockdown restrictions as the edges have been tested. In the midst of it all are our children, young people caught up in the maelstrom of a pandemic that has, without warning, swept through their lives, creating havoc.

For adults, hard though it is, there is the chance to rationalize what has happened and maybe now, with the advent of vaccines, we begin to see some distant light at last, but for our children it is a different problem. Their world has been turned upside down and the broken pieces lie scattered on the ground around their feet.

The closure of schools has deprived children in so many ways, with the disruption of their ‘normal’, week after week creating a tension that challenges them. They wander round like a lost tribe in the desert.

Without doubt, many schools have been magnificent in their response to exceptional circumstances and teachers, together with all the other people who staff our schools deserve a sincere thank you for their hard work. We should always remember that the closure of schools has not been complete (in Britain) for there are those children of essential workers who have been attending school throughout this time. Their needs in the classroom have had to be managed alongside the remote learning offered to the majority of pupils who have been kept at home.

Instead of the morning school run, breakfast has been followed by the log on to the laptop for remote lessons, often in the isolation of a bedroom. Tedious enough for an adult working from home, screen watching hour after hour, but what is the consequence for a young person, what short term and long term effects is this having on their lives? There are of course those who do not have good access to the necessary technology who are therefore hampered even further.

Recently I was sent the words of a song, written by a local man, Geoff Brookes, that in simple imagery makes the point. Geoff is a retired railway signalman. Now in his 70s, he has learnt to play the guitar in his retirement. It is entitled ‘See it through for the children’ Here is the link to a YouTube recording of the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjFiiupgZqg or just type in the title and the name of the singer in your YouTube search. His singing and playing are set to photographs, taken by his wife Christine. The lyrics follow.

It’s an awful time 

That we’re living through

In a different world 

To the one we knew

What we miss so much 

Is just a kiss or touch

Because the human race 

Was never meant to space

So will it ever end?

One day it will, my friend.

 

Chorus

One day we’ll love again

One day we’ll hug again

We’ll all go out to play

And throw our masks away

And when this Covid ends

We’ll meet with all our friends

We must see it through 

For the children

 

Everything has changed

Our lives are rearranged

We must make a vow

Support each other now

And in the end you’ll see

We’ll claim a victory

For you for me 

For every family

In a poignant yet concise way it highlights the real dilemma that children and those who care for them have faced. The mention of friendship is important for schools are much more than ‘learning factories’, where the transmission of facts alone counts as the measure of success. There is a crucial social context, the building of relationships and friendships that form long-lasting bonds between children that is vitally important. It is the place where we learn to be, one with another.

The buzz of classroom activity, the casual interchange between friends is missing. It is replaced by the coldness of isolation brought about by the loneliness of screen watching. There is only so much they can take.

When usual routine goes out of the window to be substituted by an unfamiliar pattern, there are consequences. The short years of childhood cannot be repeated, much is lost and the seeds of future difficulty sown. We have no idea of the long term problems that months of de-schooling might bring for this generation of children. We must be sensitive to their needs as they struggle to come to terms with a new and immediate reality.

The natural environment for children is one of balanced company, one with another under the watchful eye of caring adults. Parents and grandparents have shown great dedication in their supervision of home learning, coping not only with the practical lesson detail but also with the emotional stress that results from the day-to-day sameness of home schooling. Maybe they have also realized that ‘I don’t know’ is an honest answer.

The sooner our schools re-open for all children, the better. The age-related needs do of course vary. For very young children, the new normality of school life has been a poor introduction to the real thing. For some the excitement of transfer from the Primary phase to Secondary education has been lost and cannot be made up. The Year 6 experience at the end of the primary years has been confused and disjointed. The damage done cannot be restored.

For those pupils expecting to take public examinations at GCSE and A-level this Summer, it has been a time of frustration and confusion. Certainties have vanished on the wind as their programme of learning has moved first one way and then another. Their path to further education has for many become a matter of confusion, doubt and uncertainty.

There will be a price to pay for what has happened, a cost that is being played out now in homes across our country as well as the longer term cost that will only become apparent over a much longer timescale.

It is not only the academic aspect of school that has taken a hit. What are the consequences of the disruption to school sports activities? So much energy that would have been burnt off through healthy exercise is fuelling behavioural change within the home, leading to frustrated outbursts within families. These should not be occasions for blame or accusation, rather for an understanding of cause and effect. Tolerance can be hard to find in the cramped surroundings of a family home when pressures become too great.

We are now told to anticipate the planned re-opening of schools (in Britain) on March 8th, whether or not it is a phased or a full return, we don’t yet know.

What we can do without is the yo-yo effect of opening and then closing again. That would be the worst of both worlds. When it does happen, we all have a responsibility of care and understanding of both pupils and staff returning to pick up the pieces.

Maybe through the passage of recent months, we might have learnt that school is a broad and precious experience that benefits the whole of society and not just the young people sitting at a classroom desk. My thanks to Geoff Brookes for permission to reproduce the lyrics of his song.

 

 

 

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