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Lessons from my past
Written by Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie, partner
25 January 2021
They say that “every day is a school day”. No kidding.
Like me, many clients, colleagues and friends with school-age children are finding that the school week is not what it used to be. Forget Monday to Friday, as we try to achieve the impossible (part two), we are increasingly stealing time from wherever we can (weekends included) to ‘teach’ our children and keep up with the demands of the curriculum.
From long division made ‘easy’ in new and not-so-wonderful ways, to advising multi-national clients on crises in their supply chains; phonics to emergency board meetings; spelling tests to your seventh Zoom call of the day and then back to the wholesome, yet dull, adventures of Biff, Chip and Kipper. A day in the life of a working parent can feel like an unrelenting conveyor belt or sub-optimal interactions at times. My children are seven and four, so I can imagine it’s even more challenging for parents preparing young people for exams who for years have been told how important they are, only for them suddenly not to be.
It’s no wonder then that parents and children are feeling even more stressed about home schooling than they did during the first lockdown. In one study, three in 10 parents of primary school children said they are feeling more anxious, 14% are crying more often and 18% are having more sleepless nights. A quarter are being less patient with their children.
And that’s before we have taken into account the wellbeing of children and young people themselves. According to Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health has been particularly worrying. In 2017, one in nine children were found to have a mental health disorder. This jumped to one in six by last summer, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds suffering the most.
But what if we approach home schooling from a different place, focusing less on the hours spent getting the SeeSaw task list to zero (or whatever platform your school is using) and more on what our children will take away in the aftermath of this crisis?
Even though I lived it, I regularly have to remind myself of my own journey through education, to gain a little perspective on things.
As a refugee, I was nine years old when I finally started school. Despite my age, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I didn’t know the alphabet, nor a word of English. On my first day I was placed in an infant class to learn the basics. My parents were told to do everything they could to support my learning at ‘home’.
I have faded memories of that time; my dad sticking drawn clocks on the wall of the refugee centre, showing the little and big hand at different points. My mum writing out the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets and sticking them on the back of the door.
I don’t have a single memory of sitting down to be taught by them.
What I do remember vividly is the anxiety this style of learning fostered in us all, as my parents tried to make up for the education my sisters and I had ‘lost’, with limited resources and in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Yet here I am, not entirely unaffected, but a testament not to the education I finally got, but to the resilience that was instilled – through both choice and chance – from a very young age.
While my memories of my parents’ Balkan version of home schooling are faint, those of almost daily walks around Brimham Moor are some of the most vivid. Picking berries, climbing rocks and packed lunches of burek and KitKats. I had a really happy childhood.
It occurs to me only now that these were the times that my parents were least anxious, or at least they hid their worries better in the fresh air away from the drawn-on clocks and the alphabets closing in on us all.
I share this story to offer an adult’s perspective of what our children may feel when they look back at this time.
We got it wrong at the start of this pandemic by calling it home schooling. We didn’t acknowledge the crisis nature of the decision for pupils to stay at home, and so we set parents up to feel like they had failed before they even started.
Instead, we should have acknowledged that home schooling is not school at home. Far from it. It is a sticking plaster that, after many months of use, is losing its grip, fraying at the edges and starting to come away.
So, with many more weeks of this yet to come, what’s the solution?
Well, there isn’t one, at least not in the foreseeable. There are calls today for the UK government to outline a “route map” for getting the pandemic’s “forgotten victims” back to school. However, I fear that any such plan may once again dash the hopes of parents, children and teachers if the virus derails it.
Parents and teachers have no choice but to keep going and doing their best, especially for the most vulnerable.
The little choice we do have then, is in how we shape children’s experiences of emergency education now, and the memories they form along the way. Helping them to build resilience, ensuring they feel loved and valued, getting fresh air into their lungs – and the occasional KitKat into their bellies – will have to do while we wait for the welcome sound of school bells ringing again.