AS the seventh week of lockdown rolls on, many of us might have been content to think that school is out for summer. How happy we were to bake or sunbathe in our kitchens and gardens; or spend our days reading and with the family. But as part of an important plan to reopen Britain, the government has announced that from June 1 schoolchildren will be returning to the classroom and playground. This significant step in the phased exit from lockdown may induce an element of dread as the thought of the school run re-emerges in our consciousness.
For some parents, what they have been doing with their children at home since lockdown began is not something they would consider as ‘home-schooling’. They haven’t set a curriculum or created an assessment, and instead have been facilitating the review and reinforcement work that has been set by schools. Some of these reading exercises or mini research projects have been aimed at keeping children occupied and interested, or marginally expanding their knowledge. However, much of this work has been internet-based, with little evidence of academic progress as a result. One of the negative consequences of expecting each child within a household to log on and complete online learning activities is the amount of screen time they have. Many families are unable to provide each of their children with their own screen, especially if both parents require a tablet or laptop to work themselves. One can only imagine the difficulty in having a strong bandwidth when everybody is surfing the net for school and work.
The closure of schools across the country and the alternative teaching and learning arrangements at home may have caused some of us to re-evaluate the purpose and effectiveness of the schools our children are sent to. An attitude I share is that we must allow schools to do what they are good at: the tedious things busy working parents do not have the time to do. But it is important to remember that parents are the first educators of their children – and the most important actors in demonstrating and teaching virtue. Some erroneously discard these responsibilities and expect schools to provide a complete, well-rounded education for their children in addition to total religious and moral formation.
Readers may be all too aware of those situations where schools are forced to act as secondary parents to children in an often deprived and low socio-economic neighborhood; with boys and girls arriving unable to dress themselves properly and without the skills that should have been cultivated in the home.
The closure of schools has perhaps reaffirmed the truth and reality of strong families. The benefits of a family that has an abiding love for history and science; an appreciation of art and music, and who laugh and eat and pray together are innumerable. And though so much good can happen at home where children may play more together and enjoy creative pursuits, we cannot just assert that schools have no value or merit, or that broken homes and dysfunctional families do not exist.
When home and family life breaks down, the consequences reverberate far further than many of us realise or like to admit. There is no suggestion that an unhappy couple must stay together – separation is sometimes a sensible, though unfortunate, move. The implications of divorce, however, are often disastrous. When the institution of the family fails to function as it ought, society bears the result. Many of today’s social ills find their origin in collapsed family structures and destroyed relationships.
I am certain that in some households, parents will be rejoicing at the news that their children will soon be out of the house and in the company of their friends. The social aspect of school is an important one, as is a sense of structure and routine. At last, introverts can have some alone time, and carry on with the chores uninterrupted.
It is true that children will be returning to an imperfect education system: one that favours spoon-feeding and emphasises the regurgitation of information. And whilst there are concerns that children are being exposed to mixed messages and moral confusion, children who are taught to think and produce a reasoned argument at home are well equipped to battle against modernist ideas at school.
Society functions best when its institutions do exactly what they are designed for, and do it well. We should welcome the reopening of schools, but should also champion strong families, where there is so much more, happy learning.