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Coronavirus has spotlighted social inequality in education

The government plans to re-open primary schools for certain year groups such as reception, on 1 June.  These plans are not supported by the teaching unions and most teachers, and are just another example of how out of touch this government is. 

They demonstrate the complete lack of foresight with which the government views our educational system. Yes, many schools may be able to provide safe and socially distanced education, but these are in the minority and are likely to be in the private sector; these are the schools which many in the government send their children to. 

In the long term, schools may have to be re-opened regardless of the minimal coronavirus risk, but at this point, when we still know very little about the disease and its long-term effects, sending children to school is an unnecessary risk. 

Yes, largely children are far less at risk from Covid-19, but we should not take this lightly. Even if one child dies due to schools being forced to re-open then the government has failed in its duty to protect its citizens – though that bridge has already been crossed. 

The fact that children must return to school to avoid the dangers of staying at home, or to receive an education their parents cannot facilitate, is symptomatic of long-standing problems which successive governments have neglected

With many cases in children, symptoms are thankfully mild. But their potential for spreading the disease is not fully understood, and this is what makes government plans to send back certain year groups naïve and irresponsible. Indeed, the risk to teachers must also be a concern, and the strict rules that they would have to enforce to prevent the spread of coronavirus within their classrooms are simply above their pay grade. 

The government should look at the various elements of society individually, rather than generalise. Whilst many private schools and good state schools can provide high quality online education based on the knowledge that most of their pupils can access it, others simply cannot. If the government were to take the time to assess which schools can afford to retain online education for as long as possible and which are in need of greater funding and aid, be it partnerships with better off schools or grants to provide all pupils with laptops, it would be able to maximise the educational output of schools in this crisis.

But I am only talking about half of the problem here. The pandemic is a great divider, not a great leveller. In the home education of children away from school, this is especially clear. 

But re-opening schools will only put a plaster on that problem

Whilst for some students online learning is perfectly fine- those with desks in their bedrooms and good internet access- for many it is not. For those who may have no or limited internet access or who already struggled in a school environment, the pandemic is exacerbating the challenges of their educational situation, dividing future society more and more. 

It should come as no surprise that recent studies have found that ‘better-off’ students can study more efficiently during lockdown compared to those from poorer backgrounds. This just confirms that education in the UK is greatly divided – we rank as one of the lowest countries in Europe for social mobility and opportunity for state school pupils. 

Low-income families have always been disadvantaged in education and this pandemic is further restricting their opportunities. The re-opening of schools is a short-sighted solution to the missed opportunities that children are experiencing. 

The government, as usual, is avoiding the root of the issue

Inequality is embedded and obvious in our society, as is the disregard for the lives of the working class that our government holds. Gavin Williamson talked rightly about the need for children to return to school, highlighting how many children enjoy school, with some seeing it as an escape from bad home-lives. But re-opening schools will only put a plaster on that problem. Indeed, if it leads to the children contracting Covid-19, the government will have failed, but it will be the struggling schools who are blamed.

The government, as usual, is avoiding the root of the issue. The fact that children must return to school to avoid the dangers of staying at home, or to receive an education their parents cannot facilitate, is symptomatic of long-standing problems which successive governments have neglected. Sending them back to poorly-funded schools will only worsen the pandemic and its effects on society.

The urgency with which the government seeks to re-open schools reflects the ongoing commercialisation of education. The contempt held by officials towards the pandemic proves that, whilst this disease does not discriminate, our government certainly does

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