LOCKED DOWN AND LOCKED OUT
School closures throughout lockdowns imposed by the pandemic have undoubtedly had a serious impact on the cognitive, behavioural and social skills of children of all ages. Since March 2020, we have lived through unprecedented times, and attempts to home school children have been a hit and miss affair as standards have naturally dipped as routines are interrupted.
Evidence shows that even short periods of missed school can negatively impact pupils’ skills in many areas of their social and educational development. For example, a survey showed that 44% of middle-income parents spent more than 4 hours a day helping their children with their schoolwork during lockdown as opposed to 33% of lower income families who admitted to spending less than 4 hours a day. It is known that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to fall further behind than their wealthier peers owing to several significant factors. Lockdowns have produced a unique set of challenges for parents which have seen less affluent families preoccupied with basic survival matters brought about by a reduction in income, a struggle for privacy within a smaller home and poor nutrition leading to health issues. Overall, they may not have the time or resources to compensate for their children’s missed schooling.
Another significant factor is the lower educational attainment of some parents themselves. This could mean they are not equipped to compensate for the lack of classroom knowledge. Or there could be serious long-term health issues and other tensions within the family unit. Undoubtedly, higher educated parents are more capable of filling the gaps in their child’s learning during lockdown and this division is highlighting the inequality of education.
The home environment is another important area which may not be supportive of learning if the distraction of younger siblings or family members who are also at home may interrupt another child’s concentration while attempting online school work.
The potential consequences of the disruption to children’s futures from prolonged lockdowns cannot be underestimated. Certainly, Covid-19 has widened the inequalities seen across the educational spectrum to produce a clear division between the ‘Haves and Have Nots.’
If further lockdowns are imposed, the risk of further deterioration of children’s mental health along with their education will increase.
A Canadian study found that 44% of parents with children under 18 years living at home reported worse mental health as a result of lockdowns, compared with 35.6% of families without children under 18 years at home. Substance abuse, alcohol consumption, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and emotional instability increased among parents and children alike.
Unless certain measures are put in place early, negative outcomes for children are guaranteed as we have seen from data produced from the first series of lockdowns.
Some helpful strategies which have been discussed by experts have included the designation of workspaces for each family member. Keeping to an agreed timetable of who is using this workspace and when is important if conflict is to be avoided. A routine for work, meals and leisure is vital, as is setting goals with small rewards given as an incentive on completion of tasks gives a sense of something to work towards as a team.
Allowing children to express their frustrations and trying to avoid any escalation of conflict by permitting family members to withdraw to a private room in the house where they can be alone to ‘cool down’ is also necessary.
Regular virtual playdates on Skype and Zoom to maintain social skills can help to reduce the feeling of isolation.
More importantly, consistency with bedtimes, mealtimes, schoolwork, exercise and household chores is important to keep a sense of purpose and routine during a pandemic in which everyone is experiencing a shared set of restrictions and challenges.
Covid-19 has taught us more about ourselves as individuals and how we operate as a society than any other worldwide event since the last two world wars. It has held a mirror up to ourselves and shown us what is most important to us. Surely our children’s education should be top of that list as children are our leaders of tomorrow. Equality of Education should be prioritised to ensure those we entrust to be patrons of our country in decades to come will be confident and compassionate enough to make decisions which will serve us all.