Stable Education in Chaotic Times
Our exit strategy for Covid lockdowns and social distancing was always vaccines, which a large majority of us have now received. Although there are worrying signs that vaccines are not completely effective at stopping the virus, the highest quality vaccines have been doing an excellent job of reducing hospitalizations and deaths. We also now have highly effective treatments for those who do require hospitalizations. We’ve come a long way. Yet there’s also a general consensus among epidemiologists that the virus will be with us long term, and that there aren’t any other game-changing tools on the horizon to substantially improve the situation further.
As we head towards fall and the next school year, we need sustainable Covid strategies for our children.
Over the last year and a half constantly changing school guidelines and virtual learning have left many kids demoralized and confused. Regulations for the upcoming school year were announced in mid-August, but come with a lingering feeling of uncertainty as the provincial government says they’ll be modified as needed.
Teenagers have one of the highest vaccination rates of any age group, well in excess of 80% for first doses as of mid-August. Given this, the strategies that we devise for our high schools over the coming months should be ones we can implement long term, offering as much stability to students as possible. Crafting what exactly these should be is a tremendously challenging task, one that requires looking at all aspects of health. This is hopefully well underway, although information on progress from our education ministries is scarce.
The provincial government has legitimately said that drop-out rates haven’t increased over the pandemic. Yet last year requirements to pass were understandably quite light. When exams and rigorous grading return we may be in for a very rude awakening. Looking to the long term now is essential.
Elementary schools are even more complicated. Sadly we still don’t have effective vaccines authorized for young children. But we do know that young kids are among the most impacted by the Covid mitigation measures. And that severe cases among young children are still quite uncommon, a rare silver lining in the dark cloud that’s been hanging over us all these last 18 months.
There has been little research to understand the impacts of our mitigation measures on the development of young children. Still, questions are starting to be asked. The provincial government has started talking about the importance for young children of seeing facial expressions to help their social development. Yet we don’t know exactly how face masks impact such learning. As a society we must start gathering more hard data on the collateral damage of our approach to stopping Covid. The danger of unnecessary long term harm increases with every week spent relying on intuition and pre-pandemic studies drawn from different contexts.
We need to lay the groundwork for consistent and sustainable approaches for our children, be it in school or in their daily lives. They can’t afford another lost year.