By Pauline Kerr
School is resuming in a matter of days, and a lot of parents are worried.
They are delighted to see their children back with their friends and teachers, learning new things, socializing and busy. But they are also deeply concerned all the precautions schools have in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will not be enough. The fact the return to classes coincides with the anticipated second wave of the pandemic is not reassuring.
When it comes to the crunch, it is a safe bet many parents will decide to keep their children home, at least for the first few weeks of classes, to see how things go.
There are so many unknowns with this. Everyone is looking for answers and frustrated with the lack of anything definitive. We look to government for information; government looks to science. The problem is science has never seen anything like this before and looks to a combination of historical data, research and the scientific version of crystal ball gazing, in addition to seeking answers from government on funding and programs.
No one – government, medical experts or Facebook gurus – knows what will happen come September. We are throwing a bunch of little kids back in the classroom with masks and lots of hand sanitizer, and hoping for the best. And worrying about the worst.
If all goes well, nothing extreme will happen, other than we will discover how much the kids have forgotten since March. If it does not … back to the alternative classroom of computers on the kitchen table, supervised by an out-of-work parent who wonders how the mortgage will get paid.
School boards have acknowledged that possibility by requiring classroom and online instruction to run parallel to each other. This way, students or even entire schools could seamlessly shift from one to the other as needs change, at least in theory.
It should be noted that remote learning programs put together by boards of education differ radically from traditional home schooling. With the latter, parents make use of many community resources including libraries, museums, recreation centres and church programs. If entire schools shift back to remote learning, it will mean, of course, that community resources such as libraries will also be closed. The computer will once again become not only their classroom, but their community centre and social life.
That said, we must keep in mind it will not be a disaster if kids graduate a year or even two years later than they normally would. Some young people prefer to take a “victory lap” anyway, to improve their marks and give themselves a chance to catch their breath before starting college, university or an apprenticeship program.
Some kids have their whole life mapped out by the time they hit their teens; most do not. In the long term, the impact of a delayed start to a career depends more on attitude than age.
There are some youngsters who will see a disrupted education as an excuse for failure. There are others who will see it as an opportunity to develop special interests that might lead to a rewarding career, or at the very least, a fascinating life-long hobby.
The day when a person expected to get a job at the local plant right out of high school and retire from the same place, is long gone. Changing not only jobs but careers, often several times, has become the norm. Flexibility and resilience are qualities that will get our young people successfully through COVID-19 and out into the world.
Perhaps the most important lesson they can learn from all this is sometimes even the experts have to keep their options open and try different paths before they find something that works. And if it stops working, try something else.
We would like to tell the kids going back to class – or not – that we, their parents and grandparents, their teachers, their board trustees, their government leaders, have filled in all the blanks and know exactly what we are doing.
We cannot. Perhaps that is not such a bad lesson for the kids to learn.