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End the lockdown and let our children back to school

“Mama, ano nang gagawin ko sa buhay ko, pare-parehas na lang ginagawa ko araw-araw” (Mama, what do I do with my life, I’m doing the same things every day). 

These were the words my almost-12-year-old uttered one day after she finished the weekly call with her classmates. When I asked her to expound on what she meant by her words, she said, “Ayaw ko na ng online, gusto ko ng lumabas, makakita ng ibang lugar, makipag-usap sa ibang tao na hindi ikaw” (I don’t want to [keep interacting] online, I want to go out, I want to see other places, [and] to talk to other people”).

If you ever met my daughter, then you would know that her words were not just an expression of boredom. In fact, my daughter never gets bored – her mind is too swift to be idle. But hearing these words from her, I began to really look at how she was spending her days in order to understand what was happening to her internally.

My daughter is lucky. Our home is located at a faraway location, with trees and nature around it. She has her own room where she can spend her days playing the violin, writing on her journal, listening to one song over and over. Just today, she made herself a diorama of a garden which she copied from a landscaping book I own. She also has a dog that has kept her company for the last two (almost three) months she is in quarantine. And yet, she feels the emptiness of her days. I give her time in between work, but she is longing for human connection, a necessary element that all children her age need. She is longing to act silly, and to laugh with her friends. She wants to share her daily projects with someone her age, to be able to do things together. Sure, she can do those same things with me, but it is not the same. We’ve all gone through that age, we all know what it means.

I wish I could promise her that things will be better for her soon. But even as our own city is now under the modified general community quarantine (one step away from having the community quarantine lifted), my daughter, along with other children below 21, are still not allowed to leave their homes. Moreover, the Department of Education has not yet confirmed that face-to-face classes can resume anytime soon. As of last May 26, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that there will be no face-to-face classes until a vaccine has been developed1. Whether he remains true to his word or not is immaterial, but this promise of indefinite school closure is not something to look forward to.

“Classes will resume soon”, I told my daughter, “but it might be online”. And as expected, her smile turns into a grimace, and she said “It’s useless. There’s no sense in doing online classes because I can’t be with my classmates.”

Forced to stay home

We thought that by keeping our children home, we will protect them from the danger of the SARS-COV-2. What we didn’t think about were the side effects of this decision.

In a report published by the World Economic Forum last March 26, 2020, it was found that some 1.3 billion students were unable to attend school due to country-wide lockdowns2. That’s 80% of all the world’s learners forced to stay home. 

In the Philippines, the school year ended early, and the usual school traditions that helped children process the end of one school year and the move to a higher level the next, were all gone. Over night, children’s lives changed. They couldn’t even say goodbye to their friends. We all know how painful it can be to lose people without saying goodbye, and not knowing whether you will ever be able to see them again. 

It is the disruption in their days, the endless waiting, and the excessive fear among adults that is driving children into new levels of anxiety.

Meanwhile no alternatives were offered to a majority of these students, and their parents, caught off guard with the school closures, found no suitable activities to guide their idle days. 

It is the disruption in their days, the endless waiting, and the excessive fear among adults that is driving children into new levels of anxiety. They are forced to wash their hands several times a day, to keep all surfaces clean, to never touch their faces, to be wary of people who go outside their homes. We  are causing children to lose their sense of security.

Remember that these are young minds that we are referring to here. Many of these children have not learned to control, much less identify and process their emotions. Our own inability to control our emotions and reactions during this pandemic is teaching them the lesson that the world is not safe, that they cannot trust strangers, and that they should always be cautious to stay healthy. We are teaching them to live in fear, and that, unfortunately, is setting them up for failure. 

Here is an article explaining the impact of the pandemic (and school closures) to children:

60+ doctors and educators release statement on the situation of children and adolescents during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic

The social dimension of school closures

In the same month as massive school closures were implemented around the world, the UNESCO released a report which said that school closures could lead to increased drop out rates, particularly among adolescent girls living in least developed countries3.

Many girls, unlike my daughter, live in an environment where they are at risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy, and forced marriage. For these girls, education has served as a respite, offering some protection from possible abuses and exploitation, as well as providing them with the skills and knowledge they can use to change their future. Indefinite school closures have not only led to greater anxiety among children, it also effectively extinguished hope among children and girls who regard education as a lifeline. 

Meanwhile, on April 30, 2020, The Economist published an article which says that primary schools are important for social mobility4. The costs of school closures far outnumber its benefits. For one, parents’ productivity gets immediately impacted when children are out of school, which in turn affects the family’s over all wellbeing.

School closures also affect the youngest school children as they lose the opportunity to develop skills they will need to navigate their adult life – social and emotional skills, critical thinking, self-control, perseverance, among many others.

Here are a few more links you can read about this:

Children’s Commission: Children should be back in school

German experts: Schools and day care centers should be reopened

Lockdown schooling is not a substitute for true education

In the Philippines, the Department of Education has offered learners several options to continue their education5 – blended learning, distance learning, and homeschooling. While these sound like good solutions for many parents who are still wary about sending their children to school, it is not necessarily the best option for our children. 

In an article written by Annie Koshi for The Wire6, she says that  education has a much larger scope than the lessons children get in school. It covers a large time frame – from birth, well into adulthood. Education should consider the human being as a social “animal”, one that is capable of empathy, critical thinking, and creativity. True education fosters the sense of community, of coming together to build, create, and grow. Koshi says that these are what makes online education substantially different from offline schooling. Character building, Koshi says, is at the heart of education, not academics alone. 

When my daughter complained that online schooling was “useless”, this was probably what she was referring to. The inability to have meaningful interactions with her classmates due to technological limitations (the dropping of connections and other technical difficulties) takes its toll on children. It sets them up for an existence that is disconnected from others, which then fosters further separation, misunderstandings, and  ultimately, various forms of discrimination and wars. We have grown up in this kind of society. Do we really want our children to experience the same? 

Must we destroy our societies out of fear? Must we destroy our children’s chance for a better future? For if we allow lockdowns and school closures to continue, that is ultimately what we are voting for.

Petition to re-open schools launched

We support the call to reopen schools which was started by a group of parents in the Philippines. To sign your support, or to understand the concern better, visit Overcome The Fear: Sign Petition To End Lockdowns Of Children And The Youth.

Sources

  1. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1281030/palace-clarifies-no-face-to-face-classes-until-ph-under-new-normal
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/infographic-covid19-coronavirus-impact-global-education-health-schools/
  3. https://en.unesco.org/news/covid-19-school-closures-around-world-will-hit-girls-hardest and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/01/many-girls-have-been-cut-how-coronavirus-global-school-closures-left-children-at-risk
  4. https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/30/closing-schools-for-covid-19-does-lifelong-harm-and-widens-inequality
  5. https://www.deped.gov.ph/2020/05/11/iatf-approves-the-be-lcp-school-opening-on-august-24-2020/
  6. https://thewire.in/education/education-schooling-coronavirus

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