Concerns about the current cohort of children in school are now at the forefront of concerns about the pandemic’s legacy.
Recent policy changes have focused attention on their mental health, lack of formal learning and skills, and long-term harm to social mobility in the opening of schools and examinations.
But the pandemic can also provide a different kind of education alongside these difficult experiences: an informal education in social connectedness and compassion…. What’s happening to school kids right now, particularly teenagers affected by test anxiety, is as difficult as it gets. They have drastically curtailed their social interaction.
All the liberties they may have been trying to negotiate gradually with their parents have come to an abrupt halt. They are now confined primarily to their homes. Uncertainties and sudden shifts have created terrible pressures. They’re preparing for the new school year in one minute. School’s out for the next minute. Tests for one minute are “definitely” going to happen. They get canceled the next minute.
As if that were not enough to cause great anxiety, the threat of the disease is in the background, which becomes more and more real as more cases come to know it personally. A friend gave me a picture of what it is like for her sixth-grade son, who has been studying hard for his examinations for the past few weeks and now feels like all his work has been for nothing and his motivation is difficult to recover. Not only is school disrupted, but so are social interactions that are “normal” He spent his birthday outdoors, just before Christmas, with five other friends, followed by a family dinner at home.
Christmas, usually a lively occasion, was just family once again. “Her children, my friend says, “feel angry and frustrated.” But, she adds, “there are no tantrums. They understand the bigger picture. It is striking that, in addition to disappointment and fear, this generation expresses thoughtfulness, even wisdom, about their situation. A 16-year-old girl from Huddersfield was asked what she thought about exam dropouts on a radio news program.
She said she was personally very disappointed because she had worked so hard and believed she could do well.
But she knew that many children at school did not have access to wifi and iPads at home and would therefore be disadvantaged in the exams.
Canceling them was therefore the only fair decision.
In other interviews, school children were asked what they would most like to see when the closure was over. Time and again, the answer is “to see my grandparents.” The potential consequences of disrupting children’s education and socialization are very serious indeed.
Divine Charura, professor of counseling psychotherapy at York St. John University, says Covid has led to many existential anxieties among school children who experience separation from their friends and family.
Furthermore, “their normal routines and rituals have been disrupted – rituals such as examinations, results, celebrations – which often have positive effects on development.” The disruption of these normal experiences and processes, such as loss and grief, can have an impact on them. But Charura has also discovered that children show “resilience.” “There is a very strong development of their awareness,”
The discourse about the pandemic, with its instructions to stay home and save lives, protect the vulnerable and elderly, and save the NHS, has developed an awareness, Charura says, “that we are interconnected, that my actions have an impact on others and the actions of others are not without impact on me.”
The children have also developed an awareness of the circumstances of others. They recognize that others do not have access to technology or have parents who are vulnerable. In the dark moments of the pandemic, it was easy to imagine that a social breakdown caused by extreme selfishness was imminent. It is also not uncommon for kids to spontaneously reinforce social bubbles, remind adults to wear masks, or express outrage at those who break the rules like Dominic Cummings.
So far, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, this generation of schoolchildren has witnessed in real time how a society moves as a unit, with most people acting in the interest of the common good.
In other words, they see the cement that holds society together,