Never has there been a more pertinent time for our children to learn about the spectacular glowing crown only visible temporarily when the moon covers the sun and darkens the sky. That’s called corona too. This is the ideal moment for children to learn about the glow of humanity and what it is capable of when faced with adversity. When better to show children that the human race is an intrinsic part of mother nature and working with her is much more effective than working against her? Our response to Covid-19 should be informing us, and our offspring, how to deal with all of the global issues that we face, from racism, to recession and climate change. And acting out of fear isn’t the way.
So I didn’t hesitate. As I stood two metres away from the headteacher of the local primary school, I found myself offering to come in and do anything I could to help now the school is re-opening. The preparations being made behind the scenes to ensure the safety of children and teachers in the UK are manifold. In the meantime, I am sat at home, alone, writing, doing online teaching and book reads and trying to assist anyone who approaches me for help. Apparently, I’m in the best environment I can be in for all of us right now. And yet my heart tells me that’s simply not the case.
As with every other element involved in the global pandemic, children returning to classrooms is a hugely contentious issue, for obvious reasons. No-one wants to play Russian roulette with their sons or daughters. Yet two months spent next door to a home with five children inside it almost twenty-four hours a day has reinforced my feelings about how we should be supporting our children to navigate the current situation. And I don’t believe keeping children from being together is the right way.
My daily work, whilst dramatically different in some ways since the start of the pandemic, still involves me coming into contact with people from the broadest spectrum of society: local families living on social welfare; scientists working on Coronavirus testing and vaccine research; colleagues working in huge international organisations; professionals in the media industry; and teachers and parents all over the world. In every one of our conversations, the message that prevails is that right now we must do everything we can to look after the current and future physical and mental wellbeing of the next generation across the globe. Having them start to wear masks in daily life is not, we all agree, the most effective manner of doing so.
I understand why it has been necessary to ensure our medical services don’t become overwhelmed. And I can see why it’s sensible to continue acting with caution and working from home or avoiding public transport, social events and gatherings where possible. However, it’s a fallacy that remaining within the same four walls is guaranteed to keep us all safe. I recently received a message from a friend to explain she’s ill. Not Covid. Just cancer. Domestic accidents, domestic abuse, the psychological effects of social isolation and even stress-related illnesses can all occur within our own homes. Nowhere on the planet offers perfect sanctuary from life’s risks. If you are very vulnerable to the effects of a virus or any other illness, restricting your movements and interaction with other people, and those of your nearest and dearest, offers an increased level of protection. For otherwise healthy and fit individuals, however, particularly youngsters, I question whether the benefits of avoiding one particular illness really outweigh the potential harm caused by confinement. Whilst at home every day, children are now being subjected, unintentionally, to adults facing incredible uncertainty, daily bouts of pernicious media exposure, and heightened emotions that even grown ups themselves do not understand and cannot control at times.
Adults are taking measures to mitigate the virus-associated health risks in the outside world, including the ones to our mental health as a result of isolation. It seems logical that we do the same for our children, who learn by watching how we act and copying us, particularly in the early years of their life. I want to ensure that the message I pass on to all the children around me is that choosing do things because you are afraid does not result in the best outcome for anyone. Acting out of compassion, with consideration for those more vulnerable than we are, sharing knowledge and experiences and helping others is the way true progress which benefits everyone takes place.
I’m an educator and an academic. I investigate all aspects of an argument before making up my own mind. I’ve listened to politicians and their rationale for closing down whole national infrastructures overnight. I’ve spoken to scientific and medical experts dealing with the realities of a very new illness. And I’ve watched and interacted with parents, teachers and business owners trying to do their best by those they are responsible for, whether family or employees. I’ve even had conversations with proponents of the New World Order. My conclusion is that human beings have an innate desire, indeed a need, to adapt to an ever changing world. They crave problems to creatively solve and a purpose greater than themselves to focus on, no matter what their age. Interaction both socially and with the natural world is key to helping maintain their physical and mental health whilst achieving these things. Staying locked inside a man-made construct for excessive periods of time, whilst perhaps beneficial in very short doses, does more harm than good in the long term.
So when my local school opens, I want to support the teachers who are taking calculated risks to help children learn. They didn’t sign up to be at increased risk of contracting a particular illness, or to try and have children remember to keep apart (undoubtedly the hardest thing they will ever try and teach them!) But then no choice we ever make guarantees that we won’t face very testing challenges or be in danger as a result. It’s called life. We can choose to live it in fear or coming from a place of love and taking sensible precautions. Precautions which still don’t provide guarantees. Because life offers us none. And with the right support, it’s OK to let our children know that. It’s not something to be scared of. It’s just a reality.
Exactly what children have been learning during lockdown and what they learn once back in school matters less than that they get the opportunity to learn something and to be together. With just a few weeks of the academic year left, no-one is under any illusion as to the quantity of targets that will, or won’t, be met. This particular moment in time will enable opportunities to share different experiences, to learn about the incredible benefits of adaptation and innovative problem-solving. It will allow discussions about how and why fresh air and exercise make us feel good, and why nature has been thriving whilst we’ve all taken a break from constructing, consuming and commuting. What better discussions to be engaged in with next generation of scientists, doctors, teachers, creatives, parents, police and politicians? What better way for children to pass time than talking about ideas for using what we are learning at present to help create an even better future? If, just like the sun’s corona, even one child sees me glow – smiling, enthusiastic and fearless in the face of the current seemingly dark global situation, then any perceived risk I’m told that I’m taking will be, to my mind, well worth it.