As a teacher, what is weighing on me about the current situation is the fact that students in almost all the developed countries are going to school, while we are still online. Online teaching is an alternative, but not a substitute, for in-person learning. In-person teaching is like a hare, fast and agile, whereas online teaching is a tortoise. He may win in the story, but in reality, his pace is making its audience bored to death.
More than the struggles of online teaching, I am worried about the psychological impact on our students, particularly elementary and middle-school students. Schools are not only for learning, they also teach social norms. They teach civil discourse. They teach resilience in ways other than participation in sports and extra-curricular activities. They help us to find our place and decide about our future. They teach kids to discover who they want to be and not just focus on what they need to do to achieve financial success in their lives. All these avenues have been suspended for our young people. So it’s not just the loss of academic opportunities, but it is also a loss of growth in character.
Humans are social animals. It has been researched extensively and concluded repeatedly that socialization is a fertile ground for learning, particularly for children at the elementary level. Our children don’t have access to it the way it helps them the most, in a physical classroom. This lack of social interaction has also brought forth depression and anxiety in our young people. In all my classes, students have asked me more than once in the last three weeks about getting back to school. “Is it ever going to happen?” “When?” “Are we going to be on Zoom for the rest of the year?” These anxieties are very different from the anxieties of failing in a subject, falling behind, or hating math. These anxieties are heavier and seems to bog our students down.
Many of our students have parents that are themselves anxious either because of the financial loss due to the pandemic or due to isolation from their own working environment and, in many cases, aging parents. These parents have too much on their plate and cannot provide as much emotional support as they would under normal conditions.
The loss of life is sad, but the scars that this pandemic will leave behind on us and our children is a fact that we will have to struggle with for quite a few years. And all this could have been stopped. Or at least could be mitigated by proper actions at the right time. Politicians play many games. But the game of downplaying the impact of the pandemic has caused us the most lives and brought us anxiety, depression and grief. Be safe!