Sponsored by the ACS International School Doha
Over the past weeks and months, the headlines have been full of notions of the “Covid-19 learning gap”, scrutinising the current generation of school children who are now “behind” on their education due to the pandemic. But while the adults scramble and panic about the “Covid Generation” and the uncertainty of their ability to secure future careers, how is this making our young people feel?
Now that some form of normality is resuming and schools are largely back in action, it’s time for us all to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to gain a little perspective on the impact of the past year. While, yes, learning time has been reduced for many students and exams have been cancelled, we need to change the narrative and think less about what’s been lost and what catch up is needed, and more about what has been gained. As adults, we need to take the lead to think more positively about this crisis—for the benefit of our children and their confidence, their wellbeing, and their development going forward. If we only focus on the pain and the anxiety felt and the time spent unable to learn, this is what young people will remember and how they will frame themselves moving forward, which, firstly, is not conducive to good development, and secondly, is just plain untrue!
Over the past year, all children—regardless of social status, gender, ethnicity—have had the opportunity to gain a number of real-world, real-life skills that will be completely unique to them in their lives in the most positive way. The resilience shown by young people is phenomenal. Children have had to keep going with their learning and have coped tremendously well with these circumstances. They have had to deal with being isolated and without their peers. They have had to manage their own anxieties around the pandemic, while also seeing the anxiety of their parents or their family rising.
We need to see children and what they have achieved as remarkable. They have shown incredible flexibility and creativity with their learning—they have tried new things and have had to continuously think outside the box to keep themselves entertained and to continue learning. As well as mastering the difficult art of learning online and independently, we’ve heard about students learning to cook, to juggle, and even helping their parents with the cleaning! Some students have taken on new skills like coding or spent time devouring countless books. Others have started DIY projects or even built sheds. But above all, they have learnt that when faced with a problem, there is always a way around it.
School campuses closing for most pupils was a huge shock for everyone, but as a result, young people have experienced problem-solving in real life, and these are skills they would not have developed if it were a normal year. When you’re a teenager, it often feels like every problem is the end of the world, but these students have learnt early on that everything is “figure-out-able” and that we can always find a solution. They now know that every gap—even a Covid gap—is bridgeable. So when we talk about the lost curriculum, nothing is unretrievable and teachers will continue to work hard to make sure that students continue to have strong academic knowledge and skills for the future. We just need to trust that children will learn from the experience and that they will take what they have learnt forward.
When we think about the more applied practical skills students have developed over the past year, it is evident that so many of them have advanced years—even decades—with their communication skills. They have had to communicate differently and think a little more strategically about how they are going to express what they need to.
If a child was (understandably) shy in front of a camera but needed to ask their teacher a question, they had to figure out alternative ways to reach out for help. For an 11 or 12-year-old, writing an email is potentially something they have never done before, but they had to do it to put that important question forward to an adult.
As we move forward, let’s not make our children think that they haven’t learnt and therefore they have failed. That is the thing with mindset, if children think that what they have done is not good enough, their actions will follow. Social and emotional development needs to very much be a priority for the coming months. Children have gone through something very difficult and have had to deal with very adult feelings and emotions. And while most are, indeed, very resilient, we need to ensure that all children can continue to develop emotionally and that they can talk about how they feel and not be ashamed of it.
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there is plenty of research to suggest that for a child to be ready to learn, they need to be in the right frame of mind. They need to have the right attitude and a positive mindset towards learning. Otherwise, it becomes a superficial experience or even a chore. We need to ensure that students have that balance and can think positively, because the more emotionally balanced they are, the greater the benefit will be in the long term, beyond this relatively short, disruptive period.
Sometimes we just need to remind our children—and ourselves—that there is always a positive side. In a world filled with negativity, we all need to say goodbye to the “Covid gap” narrative and instead, start the conversation about the amazing things this generation has already achieved this year and what they will accomplish in the future.
Sophie Mazaz is the middle school principal of ACS Egham, one of the ACS International Schools, alongside ACS Doha, ACS Cobham, and ACS Hillingdon. To find out more about ACS International Schools, visit acs-schools.com.