The closure of nurseries, schools, colleges and universities due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures has affected children and young people far beyond merely interrupting and negatively influencing academic progress and employment prospects.
Schools provide both purpose and structure for young people within a community supporting social integration, cognitive and creative stimulation and experiential learning. It is often the sum of the wider educational elements which determine active, successful and mentally healthy lifestyles for young people.
Exacerbation of existing inequalities for vulnerable young people has been highlighted as a key concern. While poverty restricted access to technologies to support learning, more fundamental issues such as limited access to free school meals, a safe haven from violence or domestic abuse and a trusted network of professional support staff may prove damaging in the long term.
However, all families have been affected by the closure of educational institutions. The pressure of home-schooling, lack of childcare for workers, unemployment for some and lack of access to support for young people with additional support needs have increased anxiety. Health and wellbeing is now a top priority for all education providers, particularly for students at transitional stages of their education.
Educational services saw carefully planned educational improvement strategies abruptly halted, with resources redirected to tackle the COVID-19 emergency. Exams were cancelled; instead, final grades were based on teachers’ recommendations and a computer algorithm based on the school’s past performance. However, the new assessment system disproportionately downgraded students from poor backgrounds in Scotland and England, and private school pupils didn’t lose as much learning as state school pupils during lockdown.
The reopening of schools and universities and students returning to campus caused outbreaks in several halls of residences. Despite expert warning about ongoing danger of continued transmissions, universities were left to decide on their delivery, with most universities retaining some elements of face-to-face teaching.
Sadly, the reopening of schools won’t provide an immediate reversal of harms done. Time and resources will be required to identify the expanded “newly vulnerable” group which has emerged and to properly address the needs of all young people adapting to a new educational life post lockdown.