Lockdown Generation

As the economy started to open back up, the fate of the children rapidly climbed back onto the national agenda. Bearing in mind that during the lockdown, many businesses were lost, parents were made redundant, some businesses reduced hours, bringing further pressure on family resources, and other businesses reverted to having their employees work from home.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the headlines, many thought it was just
a variation of the normal flu and that somehow, it was merely a Chinese
problem. Within weeks, as hospital beds across the globe begun to fill up, and
the death tolls begun to rise, it became clear that it was far from a localised
event. It also became apparent that no country had a viable pandemic
response adequate to the emerging problem.
In the USA for a crucial period of time, the federal government’s response was
lacklustre to say the least and more lives were lost than was necessary in thecircumstances. As a result of the rising deaths, local and state governments
decided to declare states of emergency, shutting down schools in the process.
Many businesses could no longer operate except for essential workers. For
the first time in a long time, parents found themselves at home with their
children, at the same time as school authorities were forced to move
instruction on line. Many school districts distributed laptops to the students,
some charities offered free internet services, but many still did not have easy
access.

This exacerbated pre-existing inequalities within communities and the
quality of education provision was affected.
Initially, the shutdown was meant to be for a few weeks, in the hope that the
federal government would have devised a national solution to the pandemic
problem. Some even suggested that as the temperatures warmed towards the
summer, the virus might disappear and the problem resolve itself. Alas, this
was not to be. With the enforced stay-at-home for children, it soon became
apparent that school was not just for academic learning but that amongst
other things, it offered daycare solutions to working families, as well as
socializing for the children and nutritionally beneficial food to many children
from struggling homes.
As the economy started to open back up, the fate of the children rapidly
climbed back onto the national agenda. Bearing in mind that during the
lockdown, many businesses were lost, parents were made redundant, some
businesses reduced hours, bringing further pressure on family resources, and
other businesses reverted to having their employees work from home. For
workers who did not have the option of working from home, braving the raging
pandemic to get into work was a necessity, and a nationwide argument soon
ensued. Some wanted the children to go back to school; others who had
better arrangements at home for child care preferred to keep their children at
home.
There was a marked variation in the effects of homeschooling on the kids,
depending on learning style, age, and family support. Some kids coped well
and even thrived with online instruction, while others struggled, particularly those in the younger age groups who had not yet acquired suitable learning
skills. Some kids experienced social isolation, which led to anxiety,
depression, and suicide. Some were traumatized by abuse and many suffered
from hunger and malnutrition. The long food lines, stretching for miles at a
time, that are a stark feature of the American landscape today, is testament to
the continuation of these difficulties. Many children with learning disabilities
and special needs have been greatly disadvantaged. Those children without
access to laptops and internet access did the worst of all. In addition, many
parents did not have adequate skills to tutor their children. Standardized tests
had to be canceled, which generated much confusion in respect of how to
promote the children on to the next grade.
Depending on which side of the arguments you found yourself, to keep the
children at home, or to advocate their return, the solution was either
straightforward to send the children back to school, or wait until an abatement
of the pandemic before doing so. Some parents were also concerned for their
own health, in particular, those with pre-existing medical conditions or older
family members. The concern was with the likelihood that schools would
themselves become the additional centers for the spread of the virus. There
was a heated debate as to whether the economy needed to be opened up in
short order to prevent further damage to the same or to focus on dealing with
the pandemic in order to open up the economy safely.

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The decision was taken out of the hands of governments and policymakers,
as children who were sent into the hurriedly re-opened schools, had to be sent
back home and the schools, shut again, as a consequence of spikes in
infections amongst students. Different school districts operated different
policies, thus the regimes were varied, from complete closure, online offering,
a hybrid offering, to tough it out. At the senior student levels, many children
had to forego the practical components of their education and some who
relied on part-time employment could no longer do so. On the bright side,
many children thrived, taking the opportunity to bond with family members and
learning new skills. Many took an interest in local and national politics, having
experienced first-hand the effects of policy on their lives. Parents have
acquired new respect for the noble art of teaching, with teachers now getting the respect long due them. The teachers have become creative in their mode
of instruction which bodes well for all education for the foreseeable future.
In developing countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed enormous inequalities, injustice, lack of basic infrastructure and resources to
protect the lives of majorities of populations. The worst-hit is the children, as
many have not been able to attend school and have gone uninstructed due to
lack of computers, internet access, or reliable electricity. Notably affected are
young girls, many of whom have become pregnant or suffered rape following
school closures. Young boys have had to return to work on farms or taken to
manual labor to earn money both for their own survival and to supplement
family incomes.
The fear is that a further continuation of this state of affairs in developing
countries, particularly in Africa, will swell the already high numbers of
ill-educated and unskilled youth in those countries, exactly the opposite of
what is required in an ever-complex world, where survival is almost impossible
without knowledge skills. An increasing failure to adopt vaccines or accept
therapeutic intervention has worsened the prospects for the youth, who often
fail to take the simple precautions of masking and social distancing. The
situation is not helped by the concerted campaign of disinformation about both
viruses and vaccines. With the second wave of the viral attack being
indiscriminate in its infectivity towards adults and youth alike, and with a
higher rate of infection of this new variant of the virus, the danger is that many
more children might never return to school. The results of such a catastrophe
to Africa’s educational and general development are difficult to underestimate
unless measures are taken immediately to arrest the problem.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean from the US, the effects of the
COVID-19 pandemic on education in the UK has been no less serious,
generating political controversy and heated debate. Much like what has
occurred in the US, the controversy centered mainly on the merits of keeping
schools open, as compared to keeping them shut, in order to free up essential
workers who also had parental responsibilities. After opening up the country following weeks of lockdown, the general consensus was that children needed
to be in school for both academic and socializing reasons. Many offered
apocalyptic visions of injury to children’s future prospects if they didn’t return
to school. It is difficult to ignore the fact that much of the impetus for opening
up the schools were motivated by government concerns for the
socio-economic fallout, with little reliance on any scientific input. Bearing in
mind that this was before any indication of vaccine availability was known at
the time, it formed the kernel of a persuasive argument in many influential
circles. It did not take long, however, for infections to proliferate amongst older
school children, and especially in the universities.
Hurried measures were soon instituted by the UK government, to close down
the universities and soon, the schools. Annual Examinations for GCSE and A
Levels, due in the late spring and early summer for entry into Sixth Form and
university respectively, were canceled, and alternative means of assessment
of eligibility hurriedly instituted. This generated a political storm when the
British government opted to use impersonal algorithms to determine grades
that turned out to be highly disputed. The government had to beat a hasty
retreat and fall back instead, on grades informed by tutors who were
presumed to have a more realistic notion of their students’ academic ability.
With the second spike of the virus, universities were closed late in November
and early December of 2021, soon to be followed by the rest of the school
population. At the time of writing, all educational institutions in the UK remain
shut for in-person education, although many continue to offer a variety of
online options.
The silver lining on the cloud of disruption to children’s education is that a
number of vaccines have appeared and populations across the globe are
taking advantage of it. It is hoped that take-up will rise to levels that will allow
immunity to rising in populations, leading to control of the virus to enable a
semblance of normality to return as many scientists continue to work on other
therapeutics. However, governments and policymakers will have to pay
particular attention to the inevitable damage done to children’s education
during the pandemic and devote the necessary resources to repairing the
same. In the meantime, all of society needs to keep an antenna out for any
lasting effects of the pandemic on the lockdown generation

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