Children should be at school, not home

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Jason Heale (Photo Supplied)

Jason Heale
Auckland, January 24, 2022

You are likely to have heard the term “snowflake.”

I am not referring to the small crystals of frozen water that fall from the sky in winter but talking about those who were told they were special, unique, and destined for great things no matter what. In the process, however, they often become less resilient, melting when faced with the often harsh realities of life.

In all the debate around whether to delay sending our children to school, we have to ask the question: Are we in danger of robbing our children of their future? Are we raising snowflakes? In light of our Covid-19 responses, I would contend the answer is ‘Yes.’

Parents are painfully aware of the fact, while also being mindful that there is little they can do to mitigate it. One parent in Auckland said it has been an “absolute juggle” working from home while also trying to help their kids manage their online learning.

Succeeding in filling these roles is basically mission impossible.

Anxiety over health and safety

The students themselves know it. So do the teachers. In a recent Education Review Office (ERO) report, students preferred learning at school, rather than at home. Yet, they felt less safe at school because of Covid-19. After the lockdowns, teachers and principals also noted heightened anxiety around health and safety.

The ERO report noted a bigger than expected drop in attendance after reopening, and then a second wave of lower attendance a few weeks later. The truth is that we still don’t know the extent of the impact on student learning.

However, with findings like increased anxiety levels amongst school children, and teachers needing to make up for lost learning time, especially in areas like writing, we have reason to be concerned.

The science shows that children are the least vulnerable to a Covid-19 infection.

Infection Fatality Rate

Their Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) is 0.0023% up to age 10. As one paediatrician put it recently, “They are potentially more harmed by missing out on school and having school closures than they would be by direct infection or outbreaks of Covid.”

Another said, “Even having a single dose will offer our children pretty good protection.”

It is a case of the cure likely being worse than the disease.

The cure for the cure? Let schools open on time.

As Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault says, closures are “the last thing we should do. We need to get the children back to school and… into the school community.”

Government support needs to equip our schools with the resources required to open safely.

To get learning back on track, the Education Ministry should be proactive in engaging with schools, allowing them to take the lead on what is best for students whilst offering guidance.

Take courage and be honest with children. Help them to understand their own risks. Understand that public health is not only about Covid.

That is how we can give our children not only resilience, but their lives, and futures back too.

Jason Heale Is Communications Consultant at Maxim Institute based In Auckland.

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