Róise McGagh looks at the affect Covid-19 has had on children’s education and what you can do to help your kids out at this time
There was recently a call for schools to reopen so Sixth Class pupils could say goodbye to their classmates and teachers.
Catherine Martin TD, Green Party spokesperson for education said: “They are being deprived of the opportunity to say goodbye to classmates whom they have sat beside for eight years, before moving on to different secondary schools.”
Children from age four to 18 are missing out a huge chunk of their life at the moment, Confirmation, Communion, sports days, exams, graduations and socialising. Most importantly, although they might not realise it, they are also missing out on some of their education. For Leaving and Junior Certificate students this would have been a time focused on revision, and really committing what they have learned in class to memory. And for other students many topics have been left on a cliff-hanger since March.
In way it was lucky that children in Ireland are only missing out on one term of school. According to Unicef, around 1.5 billion students are no longer able to physically go to school. That is almost 90% of all primary, secondary and third level pupils in the world. And not all of those schools closed conveniently in the lead up to the longest holiday of the year.
Unicef also stated that children are at increased risk of harm due to the pandemic, especially due to increased screen time.
“The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in screen time,” said Executive Director of Global Partnership to End Violence, Dr Howard Taylor.
“School closures and strict containment measures mean more and more families are relying on technology and digital solutions to keep children learning, entertained and connected to the outside world, but not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online.”
With more time being spent on online platforms often for educational purposes as well as socialising; children can be left vulnerable to online exploitation and grooming, as some predators attempt to exploit the pandemic. There is also an increased risk of unstructured screen time leading to cyberbullying and exposure to potentially harmful and violent content.
While teachers have sent on work for students to complete at home and some will be through online resources, it is important to continue to regulate screen time and keep children safe online.
It is very difficult for children to teach themselves material given by teachers, whether that’s on or offline; especially under the stresses caused by the current climate. And parents are struggling with the level of involvement they should have in their child’s work, especially with those in secondary school.
While some kids are happy to sit and tackle a few sums, for many parents, encouraging their children to do school work at home can be stressful; on top of the usual worries of living under restrictions.
Teachers bring an intangible creativity, enthusiasm and focus to learning that is very difficult to replicate in the home when you were never preparing to do so, and when technology is always sitting near – tempting to distract.
There are a few things to consider if you’re concerned about your child’s education. HSE Clinical Psychologist Dr Jennifer Shore recently wrote about how to focus on your child and what they need during Covid-19.
Her advice was to first consider where your child is in their education. There are long term impacts of letting schoolwork slide, especially when children are in Fifth Year or Second Year, where students are soon to enter exam years. It is also especially important for young primary school students to keep on top of reading and writing in order to continue the progress they were making in school.
“Hearing about what other parents are doing with their children does not mean you should feel under pressure about what you are doing with your child,” says Dr Shore, “The time you spend playing and interacting with your child, cuddled up on the couch watching a movie, allowing them space to play video games and talk to their friends can be just as important.”
Everyone is in the same position, so while it is important to encourage your child to continue with their school work, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself or them. Kids might be finding it tough to get motivated for reasons you can’t help, like a lack of classroom atmosphere, competition, practical resources or special learning support.
“There are also many ways you are already promoting your child’s development and learning without doing school work; activities like baking/cooking, gardening, art, household chores all teach your child valuable life skills for their future,” says Dr Shore.
“Sleep, food, exercise and social contact are the four key routines necessary for you and your child’s well-being. By focusing on these, you are modelling to your child the importance of these routines as well as promoting your child’s resilience and ability to cope when life is challenging.”
Daily life has gone through a dramatic change, and maybe that warrants a change for the kind of learning that children do in this time. If your child isn’t missing out on a huge amount by not being at school right now, it’s still good to keep a routine that includes some form of education every day, so that they continue to grow and see learning as an essential part of life. It’s also okay to not be overly ambitious with what kind of learning happens at the minute.
“Some might use this time to learn new skills or do something they don’t usually do, and that’s great if it works for them. However, do not feel pressure to do what others are doing – do what works for you and your family. Remember, you are doing enough by simply focusing on getting through each day as best you can,” says Dr Shore.
What definitely won’t help children feel safe and normal is if parents are overly stressed. The World Health Organization has warned that the pandemic could have a severe impact on mental health worldwide. So make sure to take some time out for yourself and set a good example by letting your kids know it’s okay not to feel great about the situation we are in at the moment.
While you’re attempting to help your kids to learn it can be good to think of some positive outcomes of Covid-19’s impact on education. Universities and schools are forced to be extra creative to deliver their lessons and the World Economic Forum has suggested the pandemic is driving a long-overdue revolution in the sector through remote learning. This could in turn have an impact on the quality and accessibility of your own child’s learning, and for those who currently have difficulty accessing any education at all. Things will undoubtedly get better – and we can start to look forward to that moment now.