The Pandemic and its Effects upon Education?

We really are creatures of the imagination, aren’t we? Most of us carry templates for our ideal family, partner, job, home, relationships, home and a load of other things around with us, constantly measuring these up against how life actually is, and not surprisingly, being disappointed and/or frustrated about the gaps between.

Recently I was asked to comment upon the effects of the pandemic upon the education of our young. The yardstick for this particular radio piece was this summer’s A level results, which, surprise, surprise, although not terrible, have not been as high as everyone wanted. A feeding frenzy of calamitous media pieces has resulted and all manner of conclusions drawn.

I read one American study that stated the effect of the pandemic “was significant” and could be specified as an average learning loss for individual Grade 12 students of “five months in mathematics and four months in reading by the end of the school year.” It then went on to claim that socio-economically disadvantaged students were particularly badly affected and rates of drop-out from education and higher education were higher and therefore life opportunities reduced. It concluded that all this would detrimentally affect young people’s chances of “finding a fulfilling job that enables them to support a family.” In addition, it claimed that more than 35% of parents were concerned about their offspring’s mental health.

So, what can be usefully said about the above? It is obvious that a social phenomenon of the scale and duration of the pandemic, with all its social strictures, it’s strangeness and it’s elevation and promotion of certain individuals, groups and belief systems, would be likely to affect everything and that includes everyone’s mental health, achievement and social connection.

It would be somewhat worrying if months of non attendance of school did not translate into lower achievement and a lessened general wellbeing of children and young people. Even with the ameliorating effects of technology and more family presence, for many (not all), we would have to ask ourselves to re-evaluate the assumptions we make about the given good of school-based education. In general, this has been endorsed and proven by the unintended social experiment forced upon us by the pandemic.

It’s not only health-based professionals who should be feeling affirmed in this early post-pandemic stage. Educational professionals have been given a massive acknowledgement in the media coverage that highlights the losses and negative effects of the past couple of years. There has always been a lot to do and so many social ills and injustices to address through education. This is nothing new but perhaps the scale of coverage and the possible increased awareness might prompt something good such as better government funding, greater valuing of teachers and education in general, utilisation of technology and increased engagement in learning by students and their families.

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