The back to school aisle: a sceptic speaks

I’m looking forward to getting back to school – no really – if only to shut off the torrent of opinion columns on the subject. Anyway, here’s mine.

First of all, I’ll only really believe it’s happening when I see the Back to School aisle in the supermarket – preferably a French one. Oh to be in Super-U now that May is here.

Secondly, I’m doubtful about just how damaging this time off has been. There are other ways to learn and other things to learn. I think we’ve all noticed the natural world more than we normally would. For sure, some people have been living in unstimulating environments, others have been dealing with difficult home lives. But in both of those cases, the reason for getting back to school as quickly as possible is more to do with the social work side of teaching rather than the curriculum and exams. Those exams are coming down the track, but, whatever happens, there’ll be a bell curve, and grade boundaries can be moved: they always are!

Thirdly, I think the time off has been – or ought to have been – an eye opener for those invested in technological solutions to learning. I used to be in the business of selling technology into schools, before I was ever a teacher, and the experience left me very sceptical. I realised quite early on that very few teachers have the time to learn new platforms. No matter how many after-school training sessions you get on using a smart board, you don’t really have the time (or the inclination, often) to spend hours creating resources. As for pre-made resources, yuck. Personally, I always have to spend so long fixing design howlers or adapting to my own style that I might as well have started from scratch.

And this period has shown just how unrealistic it is to expect students to access online learning regularly. A household with two school-age children and one laptop is already juggling; throw in a parent who needs to work from home, and you realise that the only way this could ever work is a laptop/iPad for every child. And that’s a pipe dream that’s been caught in an air lock for 20 years.

Even if you got to the laptop-for-every-child stage, how much of the time would 100% of those laptops be functional? In my experience, *dies laughing*. Is the broadband adequate? As to the idea of video lessons, anyone who’s been on a video conference with more than one other person knows that most of the time is spent listening to audio glitches. Just one Teams meeting fucks my whole day.

No, face to face teaching is the solution, and so getting back to school it will have to be. But whether that needs to be in June, July, or everyone should write the year off till September, who knows what the risks are?

The much quoted Australian study was done at a time when attendance had fallen to 5%, and coincided with a 2-week school holiday. One thing that this pandemic has killed is peer review. Crap is being published (and reported) without being properly evaluated all the time: scientists (and journalists) need to stop. Anyway, we know children aren’t much at risk, unless they’re type 1 diabetic, or have one of any number of other underlying conditions; or unless they get the Kawasaki disease variant associated with Covid-19. Sure, they’ll be fine, but what about the adults in the room?

I noticed on my in-school shifts that the small number of students in at the moment are shit at social distancing. Constantly need reminding, and continually ignore reminders. So, yeah, good luck with all that.

Personally, I do think the risks are probably fairly low. I’m definitely more likely to be killed on my cycle to work. I’m not going to fuss too much myself about going in. But I do resent the idea that schools are being bounced back early by Daily Mail sociopaths, and I know that not all of my colleagues are as sanguine as I. Finally, this really should only happen with adequate testing, contact tracing, and isolation. It’s not too much to ask. And yet this government has proved itself completely unable to organise testing, and has resorted to lies and fabrications. So excuse me while I don’t trust them. Hate to use a WWI analogy, but it feels like being asked to “go over the top” for “one last charge” at that enemy machine gun position.

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