My 10-year-old son slept until 11 a.m. Then he got up, played games on his X-box, chatted with a friend, brushed his teeth and showered, watched a movie on Netflix and rode his bike down the street.
Finally, at 4:30 p.m., it was time for class to begin. He opened his laptop, gazing at the screen. Half-an-hour later, it was over. “What did you learn today?” I asked, “do you have any homework?”
He looked thoughtful as he formulated his reply, then made up his mind. “Um,” he said finally, “sorry, I don’t remember.”
And thus passed another day of what passes for education in the time of Covid.
Six months ago—way back in July—I wrote a column bemoaning the fact that the schools were closing in the Philippines. Should we stay there, I pondered publicly, or return to the USA, where at least political leaders and health officials were conducting a raucous debate.
At the time then-President Donald Trump, citing statistics showing low transmission rates among youngsters, argued that the schools should open in September. Opposing him, as usual, were Democratic leaders backed by education officials and the unions representing teachers.
In the end, we took our chances in America where, it seemed, the schools were likely to reopen sooner. We were wrong; though some school districts opened, the majority—including ours—remained closed. And so, seeing no value in disrupting our son’s education any further, we enrolled him from California for another term at the school he’d been attending in the Philippines. Which accounts for the unwieldy schedule: online classes held Sunday through Thursday at 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. local time.
Here in the US, the debate has developed considerably since then. Recently the Los Angeles Times ran an editorial under the headline “Start Reopening Schools. Now.” The Governor of California, facing a recall over Covid-related frustrations, says he agrees. And even the national Centers for Disease Control—along with pandemic guru Dr. Anthony Fauci—say they have no objections. The City of San Francisco, in fact, recently sued its own public school district to force the reopening of schools.
And yet the teachers’ unions still drag their feet.
No one, of course, knows how all this will end. Back in the Philippines, where the government is finally rolling out a vaccine, President Duterte seems to be sticking to his original assertion that “Unless I am sure that they are really safe, it’s useless to be talking about… classes.”
And here in the high desert of Southern California, the local school district hasn’t yet budged, despite earlier promises that “we more than anyone want to have your children back in the classrooms with their teachers…”
So we wait. And we wonder. And we hope that the damage to our son will be minimal. Lisa Gibbs, a University of Melbourne researcher, has predicted potentially grave outcomes for students forced to stay home. “When there’s an event with a significant trauma or loss and ongoing community disruption,” she has said, “there is an extended period where learning is affected” with possible lifetime results.
To mitigate them, we recently hired a part-time tutor whose efforts seem to be helping. And to be fair, our son has put forth some commendable efforts lately that have engendered our hope. But they can accomplish only so much without the presence of professionals. And so we try to control our frustrations. Certainly with our son. But especially with those who would be his teachers.
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David Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author, and radio broadcaster. His latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, Haldane divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. https://davidshaldane.com
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily