Schools and parents act to counter ‘Lost Generation’

With schools in the UK remaining closed to most students, hundreds and thousands children and young people are learning remotely in lockdown, supported by parents and teachers, and joining millions globally.

Image of child remote learning at desk
Relocate Global’s Great International Education & Schools’ Fair in November showcased how some of the best schools around the world proactively manage the switch from in-school to remote learning as government responses to the pandemic demands.As well as sharing knowledge, the Fair also highlighted how educators are focused on the vital role of student and family wellbeing at this time. This issue remains firmly in the spotlight as more evidence of the impact of the pandemic becomes known.The critical issue of student wellbeing is sure to be explored further among speakers and panellists at the next Great International Education & Schools’ Fair, which starts on 1 February amid growing calls for certainty around when schools can return.

When will schools go back?

In the UK, the government is facing demands for clarity about when schools are likely to reopen. Pressure is mounting on the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give a route map for school return in this rapidly evolving pandemic.Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that schools could open from 8 March, but not after February half-term, as had been the plan set out earlier this year when schools closed again after the Christmas break. There is also speculation of phased returns in England according to local infection rates.National assemblies in Wales and Scotland have already announced delays to proposed school reopenings, with Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford saying on Sunday that wholesale return of pupils to school after February half-term is “unlikely”. In Northern Ireland, the situation also remains under review, but schools have been asked to teach remotely until at least February half-term.

A Lost Generation?

Yet with concern about the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, a coalition of parents, UsForThem, backed by some high-profile MPs, is calling for schools to be reopened as soon as possible to all students, not just children of keyworkers and children regarded as vulnerable. Or, at least for the government to provide evidence that school closures are "proportionate" in their decision making.A new survey published this week from the UK’s National Education Union, which represents teachers and support staff in every sector, highlights some of the concerns around ongoing school closures.It reports that nearly all respondents (96%) teach at least one child who doesn’t have the right equipment to learn, whether that is a pen and paper or a laptop. Respondents to the survey agree that “access to these practical materials improves wellbeing and reduces anxiety (65%), opens up a wider learning experience (71%) and boosts engagement and self-confidence when learning from home (75%).”While impacting children who are already disadvantaged the most, this issue can affect every student, including those studying for degrees, as other studies have concluded. Shop closures and curfews, financial distress and pressures on parents’ time during working hours mean it isn’t always easy to get out in lockdown to buy essential school supplies or offer support for learning, technical or connection issues.In the international mobility context, these issues can be exacerbated for newly relocated families unfamiliar with their locality or in a new job role. This is why, as frequently discussed in November's Great International Education & Schools' Fair, the school community plays an essential role in supporting student and family wellbeing, as well as employers when considering requests to work more flexibly.

The impact of the lockdown on young people’s mental health

Access to learning resources also cuts right to the heart of the conversations started in November’s International Schools' Innovation and Response to the Pandemic webinar.Describing their approaches to ensuring learning continuity, panellists said the focus is now on ensuring equity in remote learning as well as wellbeing. According to UN figures, nearly 500 million children around the world have no recourse to no remote learning at all.Adding to the anxieties of parents and teachers are concerns for students sitting formal exams this summer. In the UK and for those following GCSE and A levels curricula internationally, many are yet to find out exactly how they will be assessed, including whether or not there will be some external examination component.Data from the NHS offers some insight into the impact of school closures and the pandemic on children and young people’s wellbeing - and the importance of ongoing dialogue between policymakers, education experts, pediatricians, teachers, students and parents.The research study Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020 Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey examines the mental health of children and young people in England in July 2020 and changes since 2017.Among the headline findings is that rates of probable mental disorder have increased since 2017. In 2020, one in six children aged 5 to 16 years were identified as having a probable mental disorder, increasing from one in nine in 2017.Children and young people with a probable mental disorder were also more likely to say that lockdown had made their life worse (54.1% of 11 to 16 year olds, and 59.0% of 17 to 22 year olds), than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (39.2% and 37.3% respectively).

The UN Convention of the Child

Evidence of the impact of the lockdown on children and young people’s wellbeing is prompting groups like UsForThem to campaign for proper assessment of government interventions in response to Covid-19 that affect children.  Framing its thinking is Article 3 of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”This commitment to putting children first is sure to strike a chord with every stakeholder and is certainly much in evidence in the international education community's response to the crisis, as we learned through November's webinars.It also underlines exactly why schools, educators, parents, employers and students all have an important stake in working together to best navigate through the pandemic, and why forums like the Great International Education & Schools' Fair have a role in this.

Get involved in the conversation as parent, teacher, educator and employer at the upcoming Great International Education & Schools’ Fair, which runs from 1 February to  early March 2021. Register now or email to find out how you and your school can get involved.

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