THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON SCHOOLS IN EUROPE

By: Sara Mariani

The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of today’s society, bringing to the fore the weaknesses of what were thought to be the strong points of institutions, such as education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of schools, universities and colleges.

Teaching has turned into distance learning: online learning has become the way to continue to educate themselves by staying in their own homes.

In Europeans’ homes between mid-March and early May 2020, families report that they have divided the various rooms of the house and, equipped with their own PC, have started to create their own space: their own office, their own classroom.

In many European countries, schools and universities will be closed until September, and a new challenge faces us.

Can distance learning work?

Going to school is the best public policy tool available to increase skills, while time spent at school can be fun and increase social skills and social awareness.

Even a relatively short period of lost school-time will have consequences for skills development. But can we estimate how much the interruption of school due to COVID-19 will affect learning? Not very precisely, as we are in a new world; but we can use other studies to achieve an approximate order of magnitude.

Technology can provide teachers and students access to specialised materials far beyond textbooks, in multiple formats and in ways that can fill time and space, but lack of access to technology or good internet connectivity is an obstacle to lifelong learning, especially for students from disadvantaged families.

In fact, there are students who do not have computers, and students who do not have enough internet connection to allow the whole family to connect.

Some European governments have taken measures to ensure support for the most disadvantaged families.

In Spain, a recently adopted law stipulates that families with children receiving school meals are entitled to financial aid or direct food supply during school closures. https://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2020/03/13/pdfs/BOE-A-2020-3580.pdf.

The Dutch government has allocated €2.5 million for the purchase of laptops for students in general and vocational education who do not have adequate equipment at home. https://www.sivon.nl/actueel/persbericht-6-800-leerlingen-kunnen-weer-lessen-volgen-dankzij-laptops-via-sivon/.

In Portugal, a national TV channel is broadcasting classes in different subjects for all students of compulsory school age, targeting in particular those who do not have access to the Internet and/or computers.

In Ireland, a specific guide from the Department for Education and Skills provides advice and practical resources for schools and teachers to support primary and post-primary students who are at risk of educational disadvantage. https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/National-Emergencies-Public-Health-Issues/guidance-support-pupils-at-risk-primary.pdf.

Similar initiatives can be found in other parts of Europe. They represent some of the most urgent and fundamental responses needed to address the social and educational inequalities in our societies that the coronavirus pandemic has increased.

But these initiatives promoted by European countries need time to be implemented and, in the immediate future, children in a disadvantaged situation will difficultly participate in the new educational model.

This new challenge has left us powerless, and we have had to recreate, reinvent ourselves.

We recognize 4 different problem on distance learning.

First of all, a privacy issue is then underlined: between teachers and students, there are parents in the middle who try to dictate timetables for video lessons that are more appropriate to their own. This creates real situations of intrusiveness in the field that the school should not allow at all. Nor should we go into the assessment, which is the sole responsibility of the teachers. In short, at the time of COVID-19, all the parameters of professional ethics proper to teachers were in fact skipped.

Without forgetting the objective difficulties that appear in the course of practical subjects: the chemistry labs in universities, those who teach music, how can through a video lesson make the student apply the use of the object according to the correct management of hands or body posture?

How to preserve the sense of belonging, participation, empathy, involvement, friendship, interactions that characterize school life?

The psychological and social aspects are in fact put at great risk with the closure of schools and often overshadowed because they are defined as not relevant problems.

The rate of depression has increased: this was confirmed in an article published by the journal Lancet Psychiatry (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30235-2/fulltext )  by a group of 42 world experts who formed the International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration, according to which, however, action can still be taken to avoid or at least reduce the problem.

But it is undeniable that the “weak” subjects are those most strongly penalized by this situation.

Finally, there are many invisible in Europe. And COVID-19 has made him even more invisible to political priorities that often relegate the condition of disability to a grant.

Pupils with disabilities and their families are particularly affected by this forced isolation: few courageous initiatives to meet the specific needs and to mitigate the isolation they suffer. Undoubtedly, the forced absence leads to a significant interruption or loss, from a psychological point of view and of interpersonal relationships essential to increase the will to live.

Health needs must also include mental health and well-being, which will continue to be a challenge for both students and staff after the period of confinement. Surveys conducted among teachers during the current pandemic show that many are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety related to school closures, online learning and the uncertainties surrounding their return to school.

The next challenge will be to contain these feelings with the reopening of schools and universities.

What can be done to mitigate these negative impacts? Schools need resources to rebuild the loss in learning, once they open again. How these resources are used, and how to target the children who were especially hard hit, is an open question. Given the evidence of the importance of assessments for learning, schools should also consider postponing rather than skipping internal assessments. For new graduates, policies should support their entry to the labour market to avoid longer unemployment periods.

For more information about Ecepaa: https://www.ecepaa.eu/

Read our last article about the inequality to face with the COVID-19: https://www.ecepaa.eu/3-reasons-why-we-are-not-all-equal-in-the-face-of-the-covid19-threat/

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