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How COVID has changed all levels of education

Written by Frances Hudson

The devastating Covid-19 pandemic has affected every sector, industry, institution and person. From having to work from home to being fearful of leaving the house not armed with buckets of hand sanitiser, the prevalent effects of Coronavirus are undeniable in every area of life. One area which is particularly facing the wrath of the pandemic is the education sector. Up and down the country (from nursery to university level) students are having to cope with the decisions that the government has made in regards to their schooling.

School closures were first announced on an unexpectant Wednesday in March 2020. By Friday, the UK found itself in the first national lockdown. Schools shut. In order to continue educating today’s youth, teachers and students alike had to resort to online schooling- an abrupt and unusual experience. Eventually, Covid cases dropped and by June 2020 primary schools were allowed to reopen. Come September, it was deemed safe enough for secondary schools and colleges to reopen. During this brief interlude, schools morphed into drastically different learning environments to what they were before the pandemic, akin to a dystopian novel… Compulsory hand sanitizer stationed at classroom doors and yellow tape on the floor signalling where each year group could or could not stand so as to not mingle with anyone outside of their permitted social distancing bubble. But then, unfortunately, the Covid numbers grew once more.

On the 5th of January 2021, only 5 days into the new year, the government decided it was best to again close schools for everyone (aside from the children of key workers and nurseries/playgroups). Home-schooling reared its ugly head once more and with this sighs of despondent students, flustered teachers and exasperated parents could be heard in unison. Early year settings are still required to be open. The settings are keen to open but anxiety is high, especially as they do not have the same access to testing as primary and secondary schools. Furthermore, the sector is rarely mentioned in government announcements leaving staff feeling forgotten and isolated.

The fact is, despite the annoying nature of the situation, home-schooling is completely necessary if stopping the spread of the virus is to be achieved. It’s difficult and strange but it is non-negotiable, so we may as well embrace it. In a way, we are lucky to have the technology that enables school to continue through a screen but there are issues with this. The solution of online school isn’t perfect. In theory, everyone has a laptop/tablet/some requisite form of technology alongside a stable internet connection and a quiet, organised home conducive to the concentration needed for learning. Except, in reality, that is not the case. So what happens to the people who don’t have these things? It’s clearly not ok for them to be left behind.

According to statistics from Ofcom, approximately 9% of children in the UK (that is around 1.1 million to 1.8 million) do not have access to a laptop or tablet that would enable them to partake in online school. This clearly puts those children at a disadvantage compared to others , resulting in them unable to learn from home whilst self-isolating. In the majority of cases, poorer students suffer the most severely. To counter this and ensure that children from all backgrounds receive the same quality of education, the Department of Education has set up free mobile data and 4G wireless routers for schools, trusts and local authorities in an effort to help disadvantaged children. Additionally, the Department of Education has classed children with no access to a laptop/tablet as ‘vulnerable’ meaning that, in England, they can still go to school for face-to-face lessons.

Despite the notorious stereotype of school being seen as the proverbial ‘enemy’ for a lot of children- synonymous with vegetables and early bedtimes, many young people are missing going to school during this tumultuous time. It may seem unlikely, but the truth is that school is an important fixture of everyday life. Aside from the essential value of education, there is also the social aspect of schools and the support from teaching staff on offer to students. Luckily, many schools have support systems in place, with teachers checking up on students’ mental health via email. There is sadly no guarantee that there will not be students who will slip through the net, but hopefully most pupils have access to help during these precarious times. The government needs to be clearer in the decisions they make to avoid confusion. If more information was available, students, teachers and parents would be confident in what they have to do and home-schooling would be less stressful for all.

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