“We don’t have any truly similar experience that we can look to in the past to try to see what happened,” says Golberstein. “But kids are sensitive and responsive to their environments, and stressors early in life have consequences for child development, mental health, and human capital development, so I am quite concerned.”
No easy answers
There are no easy solutions for these issues. To prevent the widening inequalities in education, teachers need to provide alternatives for work that requires a computer or internet connection, for example. “Teachers need to be sure that children are able to fulfil their tasks, even in deprived conditions,” says Van Lancker.
Governments can also implement schemes like mobile libraries that will ensure children can get the reading materials they need. “These are small things, but they can really make a difference in keeping the learning going,” he adds. In the long term, schools will need to look carefully at the children who have been hit hardest by the crisis and consider special measures that could help to make up for the losses.
More generally, Rapa and Dalton argue that parents and carers need to have open and honest conversations with their children about the emotions the whole family are feeling as a result of the pandemic. The temptation may be to put a brave face on the situation, but simply ignoring the underlying tensions will only backfire, they say. For this reason, they’ve recently created a video outlining the most constructive ways to have those conversations. “Once everyone starts talking about [the stresses], things do get better,” says Rapa.
Only with a concerted effort from parents, teachers, social workers, psychiatrists and politicians can we be sure that children of all classes can emerge from the crisis ready to cope and thrive in the post-Covid-19 world.
* David Robson is the author of The Intelligence Trap: Revolutionise Your Thinking and Make Wiser Decisions, which examines evidence-based ways to improve learning, creativity and problem solving. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter.
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