International Day of Education – 24 January 2021
Nearly a year after government reactions to Covid-19 started triggering school closures in various parts of the world and more than a month after vaccination became available for those adults who wish to be vaccinated, the International Day of Education 2021 is the best opportunity to demand the immediate return of normal education provisions – we can only echo this year’s message by UNESCO on this. This should be the priority of good governance in all countries. By returning to normal we mean fully opening schools to their entire community of students, parents and teachers with no restrictive measures, but the past year has also shown that there is a need for immediate major changes in what is happening in them. The times of forced home schooling also have proven that parents must be part of decisions on what to change and how.
While measures may have been justified in the Spring of 2020, by now there is conclusive research evidence available showing that
- attending school does not put the vast majority of children at risk of getting seriously ill and they are not transmitting infection to their families and teachers[i];
- school closures have resulted in a devastating decline in well-being especially in countries that were not promoting children’s being together as much as possible[ii];
- mask mandates for children and rules on social distancing in school have a direct impact on both physical and mental health and thus making masks compulsory and orders that prevent hugging and similar physical contact cause direct harm to children[iii];
- education provisions online have a very low efficiency level for both young and older children (even for university students), and most countries failed to offer alternatives to help parents in their educating their children by promoting major deviations from school curricula and recognising some kind of family curricula[iv].
Thus, opening schools immediately should be an immediate step by any responsible government, but there are some pre-requisites that are of utmost importance:
- In every country there is a low number of children who are vulnerable due to chronic or acute illness. Governments must offer teacher-guided online provisions for them. Given that this can be done in smaller groups and that playful methodologies that have proven to be effective for children forced to be away from school exist, these initiatives, mostly private ones, provided by NGOs need to be utilised immediately.
- Teachers over 65 and with medically relevant chronic illnesses should be given priority in vaccination while vaccination must not be made compulsory or a pre-condition by education employers. All other school staff needs to be prioritised the same way as the general population as research shows they are not in more danger of infection at school than anybody else who regularly goes to work or shop.
- Free testing must be made available on a voluntary basis for both children and school staff. However, testing of children must be avoided in case a child had not developed serious Covid-19 symptoms and mustn’t be a pre-condition of attending school or done as a regular activity.
- It must be fully the parents’ consideration when they allow their children to attend school after an infection.
- Schools must take it into account that a high percentage of children will return to school in a panic induced by media or the adults around them, and even more have suffered traumas that must be tackled by school professionals. Thus, trauma-informed methodologies, also mostly rolled out by NGOs must be made available to all schools.
- There is a need to temporarily or permanently delete standardised, central tests from school programmes and to prioritise student well-being and mental health for at least the coming 2-3 years. Research clearly shows that the main victims of the previous year are children.
- Structures and school leader empowerment schemes need to be put in place to ensure that decisions on school level are done with the active participation of parents partly to acknowledge the fantastic job of parents as educators, partly to ensure that experiences of the past few months are made part of current and future education provision.
In the coming months there is a need to continue the dialogue between schools and parents as well as governments and parents. The experiences and subsequent demands of parents towards school systems have not changed substantially since our research was done in the Spring and Summer of 2020. Parents today have a much deeper insight into formal education, the number of parents engaged, and the depth of their engagement has increased tremendously. Parents’ wishes towards formal education, the structure supporting them in educating their children have been clearly put together in #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst. Our call for action has won the support of a growing number of governments, many schools, professionals, researchers and tech companies. It has become part of larger initiatives on renewing education globally. Nearly all elements of the call for action can be made a reality rapidly if a government and/or a school decides to embrace them:
- School should be primarily acknowledged as a place for social learning,
- There is a need to highlight arts and sports alongside STEM, using methods that are suitable for children, with special focus on collaborative and playful methods,
- Centralised testing needs to be replaced by formative assessment methods,
- Schools must work closely together with families and they have an obligation to know families whose children they teach,
- There must be a clear division between the educational job of schools and families,
- Digital technologies need to become standard part of school to cater for individual learning needs, but they must only be a complement to learning in physical proximity, and
- There is a need to rethink curricula to agree on what is really basic knowledge, skills and competences.
We in Parents International believe that the most important positive outcome of the crisis created by governments’ measures related to Covid-19 can be a rapid renewal of education making it suitable for the 21st century. We need to act fast and change provisions substantially. The frightful lack of critical thinking when facing scaremongering in mass media and the willingness to give up the most basic human rights without major resistance in the world’s population are symptoms showing that school did not prepare most people for becoming conscious 21st century citizens and there is little sign that schools as they are now will do a better job. Acting along the lines of the #NewEducationDeal may lead to more active citizenship, too, although parents and teachers as part of the general population has not done a great job so far in this field. But we can only do it together. Education for the future depends on #ParentsFirst parental engagement in moulding a #NewEducationDeal in all countries.
[i] For example: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02973-3
[ii] For example https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-124394/v1
[iv] For example http://www.bildungsmanagement.net/Schulbarometer/en/