The COVID-19 pandemic saw education systems worldwide close, and billions of children go without consistent learning for months. Society wished the pandemic would only last a few weeks and things would return to normal. During those first few weeks of the pandemic, no one realized how long it would last and how deep the learning loss would run as billions of children were displaced from their education. Now we are asking ourselves how to help our children catch up. Are there lessons we can learn from past learning interruptions?
This generation of students is at risk.
According to a report published by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF: “This generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value. Or about 14 percent of today’s global GDP (Gross Domestic Product), due to COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.” More information is here.
“The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable.” Said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. Parents across the world echo his sediment. Parents are concerned for their children’s educational well-being and their futures. Jamie Saavedra continued by saying: “… the potential increase of Learning Poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.”
“The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable.”
Jaime Saavvedra – World Bank Global Director for Education
Education disruptions aren’t unique to this generation. Are there lessons we can learn from past learning interruptions?
You don’t have to look too far back to find pinnacle moments in our history where learning was interrupted. World Wars and pandemics are just some causes of historical learning interruptions. So, what did parents, students and educators do during these educational interruptions? And are there lessons we can learn from these past learning interruptions to help our children in the future?
Education and the First World War, 1914 – 1918
The history of schools during the First World War has been heavily neglected. Until recently, several detailed written studies (monographs) were published during the last decade. These monographs have started to fill the knowledge gap about education during the First World War.
The studies focused on how schools functioned during the war. Especially in the major countries that were affected by the war. Education was disrupted during the First World War. But just how much? Schools were disrupted in many ways in the combatant nations (in Europe). The armies often reassigned the schools as hospitals, barracks, or military offices.
Additionally, many young teachers were entering the military, which caused a significant teacher shortage in countries with prominently male teachers. For countries in Central Europe, there were significant shortages of food and coal. Which then played an essential role in school closures.
Some European schools attempted to stay open, despite all the setbacks. However, the lack of teachers proved to be a significant issue. School administrators were desperate to find replacements for these teachers. So, they turned to retired teachers or teachers still in training. Schools tried to mix classes, but the crowded rooms caused disease and other issues with the children. Many schools tried half and sometimes even one-third-day sessions with little success.
In Canada and the United States:
Italy, France, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States faired much better than countries in Central Europe during the First World War. One reason was 60-80 percent of teachers were female. The children and teachers in these states also didn’t suffer from severe malnutrition like those of Central Europe. However, many children could not attend school because they had to start working from a young age to support their families as their fathers were away. Comparatively, some children had to watch their younger siblings while their mothers went to find work, so the children would inevitably miss school.
The First World War played a significant role in interrupting the lives of children worldwide. These children faced school closures, educational uncertainties, absent parents, deaths of loved ones, poverty, and malnutrition. Children at this time struggled to understand why? So, the emotional strain also contributed to the loss of learning during The First World War.
The Spanish Flu Pandemic 1918 – 1920
As if children didn’t struggle enough from the terror of The First World War. They now faced a global pandemic. Following the end of The First World War in 1918, countries worldwide were thrown into a worldwide pandemic by soldiers returning from Europe with the virus. The Spanish flu resulted in school and business closures across the globe. In Ontario, Canada, the pandemic primarily affected students from prior years to university. In the fall of 1918, the Ontario School Board forced school closures across Ontario. These closures lasted from one week to over three months.
The prolonged school closures caused significant educational delays for students. In New York, schools claimed that “the school work of half the year will amount to little or nothing.”
The Great Depression
During the 1900’s many generations struggled with proper education. In 1932 The Great Depression played a significant role in halting education for many children. Budget cutbacks, fewer school hours, increased class sizes, teachers being paid less, and school closures all adversely affected children’s education. Teachers struggled to teach the children that would come to school because they were undernourished as their families were unemployed and unable to provide food.
Education during the 1930s became a luxury, one that many children were not able to obtain.
The Second World War 1939 – 1945
Children’s education suffered intensely again during the Second World War. In Britain, bombing and military requisitions caused 1 and 5 schools to close. Families were separated, homes were destroyed, parents passed away, and emotional trauma was high. Many children were evacuated, leaving their homes, families, and schools.
Elementary schools, high schools, and universities were affected in Canada and the United States. There wasn’t enough manpower to keep the economy running. Due to this, teachers and professors had to work or enlist. Causing there to be a mass shortage in teachers, professors, lessons and curriculum. The war wasn’t just academically disruptive; it was also socially disruptive. This is similar to the disruption in education and children’s social lives today.
The 1900s were riddled with traumatic events that halted education many times. Despite the educational ups and downs and significant uncertainties, we can now look back and see that many of those generations’ children laid the groundwork for our lives today.
While there were many negative impacts on education and children’s lives during these trying times in history, it’s important to note that many positive opportunities also arose from these intense times.
Some positive results in education:
- Women were offered many more opportunities in education and the workforce.
- Traditional teaching methods were rapidly changed.
- Physical education and health became a priority in education.
- Education became much more accessible, regardless of what class you might come from.
- History and Social Studies were revamped entirely.
- Systems were set up to help to return soldiers catch up on their education.
Looking forward to the lessons we’ve learned.
Education isn’t something that can only be obtained in a classroom. And that is one of the best lessons we can learn from history. Many of the children from these generations still excelled, despite the closures and chaos. How? Because education is all around us, it’s everywhere. And the sooner that we see that, the better.
Children still managed to learn during those times, just like they continue to learn during these times. Yes, children will have a much more difficult time catching up without proper intervention and recovery. So, we must remind ourselves that we have the tools readily available to help our children now.
And while it’s nice to think, ‘my child will be fine, many kids back then were!‘ it’s essential to remember that not all lessons from the past are positive ones. Looking back at the 1918 pandemic, history tells us that many children from that time lived a much more difficult life. Because, following that pandemic, there was no solid plan to help children recover from the learning losses they had experienced.
You must be your child’s advocate because no one else will be. You know your child, and you are aware of the areas in which they struggle. At the same time, we can’t talk to the successful people of the past generations and find out how they overcame these learning losses. We can assume that someone created an action plan for those children to help them get back on track.
Don’t feel intimated; you have been creating action plans for your child since they were born, whether you realize it or not. As your child’s parent, you have been there to help them learn and grow. This is no different. Even if your child appears to be doing just fine, they have likely missed areas of their education. This is why you must take action to help them catch up.
While we would love for the education system to develop some action plan to help students, we know the sad reality is that many schools are simply pushing students onto the next grade even though these children need help.
You must take action, be your child’s advocate and help them.
Student Action Plan:
1. Defining areas of struggle.
First, you need to identify the areas of your child’s education they are struggling with. These are the areas that you need to help them with immediately. Make a list of the academic sites they need the most help with, bearing in mind that it might not be ‘all of the math’; it could be a concept from math that they need help with.
2. Brush up on all areas of learning.
Even if you’ve noted that the problem area is reading and writing, they seem to be doing well with math. You should still be helping them with their math skills. Because even if they appear to be doing well with one subject area, there might be (and likely are) key concepts they have missed. This will then appear as a problem later on down the road.
3. Keep frustrations low.
If you are addressing an area of struggle, please remember to be patient. Your child may become frustrated with themselves and overwhelmed. You must keep the child calm during these learning times, so they can better process what they need to learn.
4. Communicate with their teacher/school.
Talk to their teacher! Voice your concerns, and ask for directions on how to catch them up. If the teacher cannot help, go to the principal for help. This is your child and their future. It’s okay to ‘be annoying’ when advocating for them.
5. Be consistent.
It’s so easy to hand your child the iPad and hope they can figure it out. Or somehow miraculously catch up on their own. But the reality is, they likely won’t. You, as the parent, must be consistent. Read with your child, and go over different concepts with them. If you cannot do this, outsource to a tutoring program. That can help your child catch up and excel.
Parent Action Plan:
1. Be their advocate.
You are your child’s advocate, so be that for them. I know how intimidating it can be to stand up and voice your concerns. But if you don’t do it for them, who will?
2. Talk to your child about their concerns.
Your child needs someone to listen to them, to hear their concerns and frustrations. Be sure to communicate with them openly. Let them talk! Don’t judge.
3. Address your issues.
Yes, you read that right. If you feel like this is “all your fault.” That’s a problem, and you have to address it. The pandemic was not, and is not, your fault. Your child’s learning loss is not your fault. We can’t control most circumstances like we can’t fix the past. But we can put in the work to make the future bright. You have that ability, so don’t stop working on yourself.
4. Ask for help!
If trying to tutor your child is just not working, or you don’t know how to help them. Ask for help! Reach out! Do some research, and talk to experts. You aren’t alone! While it’s essential to be your child’s advocate, it’s also important to realize that so many people care about this generation’s future. Find people with the same mindset and who can help where needed.
5. Take care of yourself.
You’ll notice that above I wrote that it’s easier to hand your child an iPad. Because, as parents, we are tired and burnt out. Taking care of everything all the time is exhausting and overwhelming. So, you must take time to work on and help yourself. Programs like The Burnout Blueprint by Daddy’s Digest can be beneficial. Take time to work on yourself and do things that you love.
We must move forward.
It can be easy to slip into a place of negativity and feelings of ‘they’ll never catch up.’ Don’t do that. You must remain optimistic as you look to the future. I’m sure that if you could go back and pick key successful people from each of the generations that faced intense trauma and learning losses. You would find that successful people chose to look forward, not back. They decided to learn the lessons that they could when they could. And didn’t worry so much about the things they had missed.
Pairing a positive mindset with a carefully cultivated action plan will impact your child’s future best. So, let’s move forward together!
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