Is the pandemic affecting children? We can only speculate as we are not asking them how the pandemic is affecting them.
We are choosing to look at the challenges posed by the pandemic surrounding childhood through an adult lens. In other words, we are rewriting Western colonialist ideology on children in the way we choose to understand their struggles and their need for education and socialization.
How we make decisions that affect the lives of children today is determined by our social heritage. Can we change this narrative to consider the agency of children during the pandemic?
Read more: Coronavirus is not the end of ‘childhood innocence’, but an opportunity to rethink children’s rights
In a massive reshuffle of lock downs, stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, a constant issue has been the reopening of schools. Perhaps it can be considered a diligent consideration of the mental and physical well-being of children due to the lack of socialization and the relentless number of hours spent behind the scenes.
I have been watching and writing about childhood social construction through my fieldwork with children, where I study their motivation to learn languages other than English.
Since when has so much emphasis been placed on a child’s education and socialization that it is placed above the mental health of that child?
For a moment let us take the child back to their safe place, their homes, and assess how we have transferred their sense of safety and comfort to virtual conversation and forced listening. Take a look at young children – not their parents – who are required to attend six hours of schooling through a screen. We hear from parents how difficult it is for their families to balance school and work from home.
But have we thought about the child – their agency and choice when it comes to learning? As adults, we understand that six hours of online schooling is far more challenging than schooling, yet we have applied this transition to children without listening to the children. Knowing the challenges and resistance of children notwithstanding, we have revisited – or rather, reinforced – the historical construction of children and their real needs.
In my fieldwork, I hear from children about their feelings in the pandemic. “I usually feel sluggish by the fourth hour,” said a five-year-old who needed to go home from school during the pandemic. Another kid who had just started school said: “School is fun with friends, I still can’t talk to my friends.”
When we think about how schools have transitioned to a virtual environment, we usually think about curriculum, level of classroom engagement, and quality of teaching and learning. It’s all about recreating the ultimate learning experience at home. Still, bonding with other children—the ability to bond, share, and have fun with peers—was taken away.
The emotional well-being of children was rarely considered in the process of transfer of knowledge. How else do you justify six hours of online study?
The focus has always been on the success of the economy and creating a skill set that can lend to it.
Read more: World Children’s Day: Young people deserve to be heard during COVID-19
Today’s public schools serve as institutional places where children, who once worked in factories, can now have something valuable to do while their parents contribute to the economy. It serves as a way to keep children engaged while adults do financially productive tasks.
This belief is so deeply rooted in our ideologies of what education looks like and how it should be provided that, even during a global crisis, public welfare equals economic welfare at the expense of a child. Our performance as a society is measured in terms of how quickly we can remove them from their normal work places, acquire predetermined skill sets, at the expense of the child’s well-being. If that means we infiltrate their safe places, to educate them, we do! If this means that we expect children under the age of four to function on their devices as if they were young adults, then we refer to it as modern schooling.
Do we really believe, as an advanced society in the present world, the only way to educate a child is to spend the same number of hours in school as at home? Are we saying that while businesses and governments can run at reduced capacity, our educational curriculum cannot be curtailed in the wake of the pandemic?
Asking questions like these puts the child at the center of the conversation, which doesn’t happen unless the adult’s interest is at stake. It all depends on how we traditionally view the role of children and how we can continue to place them in the institutionalized school system.
As we contemplate their return to school, children have no voice in asking for shorter school hours, less workload or the option of going back to school during the pandemic. We continue to push the boundaries of children’s education without addressing their concerns or recognizing their agency. Instead, we choose to force them to adjust to an education system that is not really designed to serve the interests of children.