Educational poverty: a pandemic

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental both economically and physically. While I could passionately shout about the failings of the government in taking action, or my frustration towards the Chinese government for misleading the public, I will focus on one particular byproduct of the lockdown which enrages me: educational poverty. By no means am I denying the importance of safety and wellbeing of both pupils and staff, but I am simply weighing up whether the short term benefits of closed schools are worth the long term significant impact on education.

One means of social mobility that we can all agree on, left or right, is the importance of education. While schools have been closed, with previously only the children of key workers attending, the chance to socially mobilise will have decreased significantly. My view is that due to the vast discrepancy in the standard of homeschooling across households — for reasons outside both the teacher and pupils control — we are at risk of the next generation suffering from educational poverty.

we are at risk of the next generation suffering from educational poverty.

While some children will be blessed with educated parents who have the necessary knowledge to recite the curriculum, the majority don’t. Often, even those with educated parents won’t be recipients of their undivided attention — this will instead be put into their work, even from home. Though I certainly didn’t like to admit it when I was a child, discipline is necessary to achieve results. When children are at home loose from the reigns of their teachers, there is no guarantee that this discipline will be instilled. In fact, a study from UCL (Francis, 2020) has found that around 1 in 5 pupils in the UK had done no school work or managed less than an hour a day. So what? Children will be going back to school in September — news announced as another of Johnson’s U-turns — they can catch up then! This argument doesn’t sit right with me and neglects the children who will fall through the cracks of an otherwise fairly adequate system.

The success of students is often supplemented by their teachers recognising their need for struggle.

Although ‘catching up’ on schoolwork in the autumn term may seem the logical option, it fails to consider the magnitude of what children have missed out on. The classes before the term are likely to have been forgotten, not to mention the ability to get face-to-face help from teachers who recognise pupils struggling in this time. For pupils who struggle with confidence, seeking help themselves is optimistic. The success of students is often supplemented by their teachers recognising their need for struggle. Further, social interaction is vital to adolescent social development and mental health — studies have shown that periods without it cause far-reaching consequences (Orben et al, 2020). Thus ‘catching up’, when thinking about both social and academic considerations, is not an option.

This leads me to the infuriating question of why on earth did we, as a society, allow schools to be left closed for so long despite the virus having limited effect on children? Of course, the wellbeing of teachers should be paramount to the reopening but there are measures the government could have feasibly taken supplement this. For example, teachers over the age of 50 (the age where the virus has more of a significant impact) should have stayed at home, continuing to teach remote lessons where possible. The same goes for those with underlying health conditions. For the remaining, perfectly healthy teachers, the government should provide PPE and necessary Perspex screens to reduce transmission.

While the Daily Mail mob like to place the burden of school closure on teachers to fit their narrative that ‘the blob’ want to laze off school for the foreseeable future, I am taking a different stance. I feel that the government should have done more to aid the reopening of schools faster, by providing the necessary PPE and by providing adequate cover for any teachers who are unable to currently be in school safely, and ensuring they can receive the necessary support. These are the questions Keir Starmer should ask the government, and now is the time to ensure that the poorest in our society are not left behind.

By Lottie Westerling

Sources:

Green, Francis ‘Schoolwork in lockdown: new evidence on the epidemic of educational
poverty’, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at: http://www.llakes.ac.uk

Orben, A., Tomova, L., & Blakemore, S. (2020, April 20). The effects of social deprivation on adolescent development and mental health. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642 (20)30186-3

Image: by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

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