Covid-19 and our children
While it is agreed that compared with the general population, COVID-19 infections are much less prevalent in children, and also less severe when they do occur, the effect of the pandemic on their overall wellbeing should not be underestimated.
We are now into what normally would have been the seventh week of the second term of the school year, but classrooms in St Vincent and the Grenadines remain shut, with lessons being delivered virtually at all levels. Based on community spread of COVID-19 and the large number of active cases in our midst, it is unlikely that face-to-face classes will resume this term. Last year, a similar situation played out when our children missed out on the entire third term of the 2019/2020 school year.
According to Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) data, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected 1,149 institutions from the early childhood to tertiary level, impacting 152,317 students and 10,859 teachers in English-speaking OECS territories.
In the sub-region, including here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, it has been found that education during the pandemic has heightened existing equity concerns and presents new ones, with primarily students of low socioeconomic status and from areas with limited connectivity being disproportionately affected.
Even in cases where governments, telecommunications companies and interest groups have stepped in to provide digital devices, free data and electricity connections, educators acknowledge that in many respects, virtual learning cannot replace face-to-face interaction, especially for younger children. The longer virtual learning continues, the greater the possibility that some children will experience lapses and fall behind their peers. This situation is particularly worrying for students in grades 5 and 6; forms 4 and 5; and even those in sixth form, who must sit terminal exams in a few months’ time.
But there are dangers beyond the educational deficits. A recent survey of 175 pediatric disease experts in the United States has revealed that they fear that the mental health crisis caused by schools remaining closed will be a worse pandemic than COVID-19. These experts recommend that schools be re-opened as soon as possible.
If Vincentians need motivation, beyond the need to preserve lives and livelihoods, for slavishly sticking to the COVID-19 protocols, it lies with our children. Their suffering may not be immediately obvious, but the effect of this prolonged period of virtual school may present itself in months and years to come. We all need to do everything in our power to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so that our lives could return to as close to normalcy as possible and our children return to school. This requires the cooperation of all, not some of us.