The return to school after holidays always comes with a cocktail of conflicting emotions – excitement for kids seeing friends, relief for parents, anticipation for the term ahead, longing for the summer…
This year many pupils enjoyed (hopefully) an extended end-of-year holiday since nurseries and primary schools were closed a week early to prevent the rampant coronavirus spread. However, despite the early closure at first succeeding in lowering transmission rates, the Omicron variant soon undid much of this with Belgium now seeing some of the highest infection rates since the pandemic first struck.
Last-minute alterations were brought in to prevent a chaotic start to the teaching term but it is clear that with the best will in the world (and a drive for pupil vaccinations), schools will not escape the impact of the new Omicron wave. Keeping them open will be a considerable challenge with disruptions all but inevitable.
One major fear is that schools already struggling to fill staff vacancies will now be hit with further shortages as staff become infected. This will make staying open nigh-on impossible – particularly for smaller institutions.
The spokesperson for the Flemish Education Minister admitted that “the virus is everywhere and education will not be able to escape it.” Yet the underlying concern is not simply whether kids can continue going to school, but how the quality of education itself will be affected.
With so much attention paid to the developing health situation and the restrictions that go with it, teachers and pupils could be forgiven for being distracted from the entire point of school: teaching and learning.
In this sense, the whole principle of education becomes a charade with the ever-evolving restrictions getting in the way of learning itself rather than facilitating it. How long it will go on for is anybody’s guess.
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