The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

The impact of not returning to school

Owen Bonnici Friday, 11 September 2020, 07:13 Last update: about 13 days ago

Education ministers and policymakers together with Health Authorities and the World Health Organisation made the decision about children returning to school for the coming scholastic year after an absence of about seven months. The decision was taken when all was duly considered, including the health aspects related the safety of children and educators at school in the wake of COVID-19. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioural health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short and long-term, were discussed – harms which are well-known and significant. Another aspect was that apart from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.

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The Mental Health Foundation UK in an article ‘Returning to school after the coronavirus lockdown’, is clear: “The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown is an unprecedented situation in modern times. It is hard to gauge the full impact that the situation is having on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Pupils’ experiences of the lockdown period will have been very varied. For some, it will mostly have been a safe and enjoyable time. For others, it will have been challenging or traumatic.”

An article by Prof. Carmel Borg, Associate Professor in the Department of Education Studies, at the Faculty of Education, University of Malta outlines the myriad issues surrounding school closures, which could have a concomitant impact on the labour market, stating that spring school closures impacted rate of learning, and mental health: “… schools remaining closed and retaining the shift to online learning – will continue to exacerbate the trends seen during the first lockdown, which included a negative impact on children’s mental health, a widening of the education gap, and a decrease in the rate of learning.” Prof. Borg highlighted the impact the crisis, and resulting changes, had on children’s mental health. “At the same event, parents and educators shared stories of anxious students, uncertain about the immediate future; many experiencing lack of concentration and motivation, disorientation, frustration, anxiety, loneliness and boredom.”

Speaking to Euronews, UK-registered psychotherapist Noel McDermott said, "It is vital to get kids back into school, I can't state enough how damaging it would be if we kept them out." McDermott argues that while youngsters have so far spent a relatively short period of time outside classrooms, which would be unlikely to lead to significant psychological developmental issues, we are reaching a turning point if they do so any longer. As well as the formal education they provide, McDermott explained that children need the complex social structures provided in school, with education institutions "bridging the gap between home and the rest of the world". Without this children are at greater risk of issues concerning their personality development and achieving developmental milestones, he added.

Locally, educators will be physically returning to their respective schools on the 28th, with schoolchildren following them in a couple of days.

Last week the Health Authorities and the Education Authorities said that schools will reopen with a number of COVID-19 mitigation measures in place, based on global best practice and discussions with the World Health Organisation. These include rules on wearing masks, distances between desks and the creation of "bubbles" or cohorts of students.

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Inspectorates, quality assurance and evaluation departments, and other stakeholders from seven countries came together for the project ‘Better Inspection for Better Social Inclusion (BIBESOIN).’ The project is still ongoing, with the participation of Malta with Belgium (Flanders), Cyprus, Estonia, France, Spain and Wales. Our BIBESOIN project has been selected as an example of good practice in August’s editorial of the School Education Gateway.

The editorial, ‘Inspectorates of education make their voices heard’, gives an overview of the project.

The partners taking part represent a variety of backgrounds from different geographical zones, cultural and historical contexts in Europe. This diversity is quite deliberate, as it allows for a critical examination and exchange of methods.

Through a range of transnational meetings and training activities, the project looks at ways of promoting and stimulating social inclusion in mainstream schools. This includes: reducing the impact of disadvantages on educational outcomes; fostering social, civic and intercultural competences; tackling discrimination and violence; and supporting access to and engagement with digital technologies.

All conclusions and results will be gathered in the Toolbox for Evaluating and Stimulating Social Inclusion in Education (TESSIE).

The outcome of this project will be the creation of a tool for EU inspectorates to use in their evaluation processes of schools for social inclusion. It is also worth noting that the partners decided that this tool will revolve around the framework built on the key areas used in the Maltese Quality Assurance model.

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Compared to last January and March, statistics released by the European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat show that between April and June, Malta was the only country among all member states with an increase in employment, in fact at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, only Malta recorded an increase of 0.6% in employment.

In the second quarter of 2020, employment in persons decreased in all Member States compared with the previous quarter, except in Malta (+0.6%). The largest decreases were recorded in Spain (-7.5%), Ireland (-6.1%), Hungary (-5.3%) and Estonia (-5.1%).

The economic measures that the Government took, and is still taking, are truly protecting the workers.

 

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