Written evidence submitted by Simple Simon
The impact of COVID-19 on education and children's services:
Comments to support a future crisis by Simple Simon
I am a father and uncle. My contribution is at times via a story, or philosophical arguments, from which one can extract key points. Very little of the following is about technology, as our main problems are educational and cultural, with resource constraints. My remarks do not directly affect pre-school and infant school impacts. I have suggested some technical and cultural developments, and concerns to be addressed. I have taken a slightly broader view of education than is the remit of the committee.
A) "The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services” terms of reference of the committee:
- Where parents are deemed critical to keep our society running, having their children at school is sound in principle, but unnecessary, while the parents of other children keep them at home. In a pandemic or epidemic situation, until we all catch the disease, or a compulsory vaccination programme is in place for that disease, we will catch it. While it is necessary for the government to reduce the speed with which some services like the NHS can avoid being over-whelmed, social distancing accompanied by tracing attempts and localised self isolation is all that is necessary.
- Subject to hindsight, when a national crisis event occurs, like Covid19, we should adapt our lifestyle and work places to achieve social distancing by time sharing, i.e. half attend work while the other half don’t for a month and then swop over, otherwise working from home for those who can. The month proposed ensures that any illness arising at work will result in that work group self isolating for a month so that they can overcome the illness before they are due to return to their work premises, and if returned home before their work month is completed, they can be replaced by those who were at home so as to ensure continuity of production or service.
- Where social distancing is not possible, such as in schools if all parents are working, school children should also timeshare between home and school with swop-overs every month to facilitate time sharing matched to their parent time sharing routine. In future dedicated facilities are needed to cater for in-school-time but out-of-school-building working, such as in libraries. At present the latter is the home, but home may have distractions, parents not disciplined enough to enforce school time at home, parents unable to provide the motivation, discipline and support a teacher can provide, and family abuse issues may arise.
- UK schools to date have been predominantly paper book based. Consequently, some families did not have domestic computing capabilities, and others had to share a single device, e.g. three school children and a working parent having to use the same computer for school and work. A change in schooling methods may be beneficial. In Australia, every child has a computer with access to school materials as part of their daily activities. This had to be augmented with additional materials and a ‘new’ approach to facilitate teaching remotely, mainly via self study. Those who cannot afford computing facilities are loaned facilities and given grants to purchase their own. The in-school curricula was matched to the on-line curricula and these classrooms ran in parallel. So, it is suggested that our future teaching system be based on the current Australian school technology system that provides resources on-line, with the same technology in use by all pupils to reduce I.T. resources (MacBooks in Australia, due to their ease of use, reliability, dependability with double the life of Windows PCs and excellent family free I.T. support), with school work placed on a server, with every child having a computer, with course material available to replace direct teacher involvement during a crisis, freeing teachers to develop course materials and to support individual pupils during the crisis. This also requires State provided Application Licences and course materials. This means that pupils (students) could do their work in the same hours, 9-3, with plenty of additional study material available for the keen student to increase their knowledge of their subject matter. This requires the availability of computing and teaching resources with a good internet service that is unlikely to be harmed by terrorist activities or other national crisis and could reduce teacher staffing levels, and is key to home working for both adults and children.
- - Due to our connected world, it may be reasonable for health and safety legislation to mandate, as for disabilities, that where possible, and for all new facilities from offices to industrial facilities, that they be designed or modified with social distancing in mind.
- Continuous personal educational achievement monitoring, not by frequent assessment, should be the norm in anticipation of a crisis, to replace exam results when a crisis results in an inability to undertake exams. This monitoring is to provide a measure for use in lieu of exam results for moving from one educational level to another, e.g. school to university / college. This will reduce family stress from the uncertainty of not knowing where they stand when exams could not be taken or are disrupted. It can also be used to moderate exam results where they fall short of expectations arising from individual ill-health or stress arising at exam time.
- Allowance should be made for individual pupils who suffer downtime during computer based and calculator supported exams, in the event of technology failure, not just for the lost time but also to provide re-orientation time to get back into knowing where they were within the exam. This re-orientation time should take account of individual stress levels, as some are more anxious than others
- Game machines can provide a physical outlet. For example, Wii Fit and Xbox devices can provide dance and physical exercise routines, flexibility exercises via yoga, and can be programmed to teach the rules of games, such as tennis and football, in addition to just playing them for fun. Such technology, if available from computing devices, can be ‘cast' onto TV screens to facilitate exercise, which could be monitored by PE teachers in the future.
- Broadband redundant systems are needed to cater for physical or cyber attacks that create broadband downtime.
- Encourage TV technology enhancements to provide built-in computing resources, so that they can become a back-up to laptops and desktops in homes in the event of domestic computing failures. Not only should they provide the capabilities of a computer, but allow for individual channels to be presented on a single screen, with separate audio and video streams in split screen mode, of say four sections per single TV screen, so that up to four people can continue to receive support or continue their education using the one 'TV screen' with separate audio reception devices per person so that they don’t interfere with each other.
B) "The capacity of children’s services to support vulnerable children and young people”:
- Both teachers and social support services need spare capacity, as does the NHS and Care Homes, to cater for emergency event situations, instead of staff being forced to cope with inadequate resources that cause 40% of us to become mentally ill is some way. Cut backs only save money in the short term, but at the cost of increased stress and poor health. In the long term we lose resilience, capability, experience and a winning edge by being under-resourced.
- We also need increased counselling support for adults who are affected by the increase in the number of children affected by an event, and increased counselling support for children affected by a change in routine, and for those at risk of abuse at home. This requires an affluent society that can afford a surplus of counselling and therapeutic resources, or for trained volunteers to be available to fill the gap, able to assess needs and refer individuals to more experienced resources.
- The provision of counselling services is technically easy at present, but not physically convenient. To gain privacy one has to leave ones home for a lobby or garden. Consequently, data usage needs to be free during a crisis.
C) "The effect of provider closure on the early years sector”
- The brain of a teenager is re-wired to forget a lot of its past experience by the time it passes puberty, so the value of intense or early training for the very young is questionable, and the parental and educationalists concern for them missing out through lack of attendance at school, ignoring the social impacts, is unfounded, as they can catch up educationally quickly if they have the right motivation.
- Like physical strength, our memory of what we are leaning rapidly diminishes unless constantly re-enforced, so there is little point in worrying about missing school, because we can quickly catch-up. That means, in a short lived crisis, all that we need is to remain motivated, not to be de-conditioned physically or mentally, hence the need for gentle tele-schooling revision of school work with less intense pressure to achieve, so that we are ready for when the crisis is over.
- Most of what we learn is never used, so what we teach must serve, as a priority, the need to sustain if not develop our lifestyles; engineers to recreate and replace failing structures, in addition to innovational improvements to satisfy our ego of wanting more and better; but also technician capability to maintain and repair what we have; we also need interpersonal skills to improve our ability to work together for the common good and towards mutual understanding of cultures and beliefs, with the unachievable aim of having common values. Everything else is a nice to have, and should be allowed for, e.g. a love of music, history, etc.
D) "The effect of cancelling formal exams”
- Cancelling exams has resulted in family and individual stress. We have a need for ongoing assessments to replace exam results, but not with the rigour and stress previously experienced by teachers! Measures of effort related to performance is key, not just performance. However, like annual confidential reports in business, school assessments need to include student moderation of the assessment reports.
- The effect of cancelling exams and courses is best illustrated by this story: Severe concern has been experienced by a teenager and his mother due to lack of information on how to proceed:
- His college closed, so continuing his course in mathematics to get a better grade than the one he had, in order to secure a university place, was cancelled, with no follow up or home schooling, and no guidances as to what might happen to the students and their potential exam results.
- While many of his grades were adequate to gain entry to university, his mathematics exam results were barley sufficient. He was unable to get any feedback from several universities on the consequences of not getting a better grade in that subject.
- While undertaking a computer based exam, the computer failed to function for a period of time. The college did not provide a time extension to ma
- Some exams did not take place, so a process for assessing course work would help replace the exam results, but that was not the case.
- Uncertainty remains as to if university entrance will be achieved this year, or if the exams not taken or partially completed must be re-taken with a consequent year of further study before an entry to university is achievable.
- A national policy and approach needs to be worked out to cater for such a situation.
E) "Support for pupils and families during closures”
- Parents to be given basic guidance such as, "do not teach, do not do it for them, just encourage them to work things out for themselves, to look for answers in they assigned books and on the internet and to ask for teacher help if still stuck",.
- Teachers to provide guidance on work durations, e.g. "the pupil should take between X and Y hours to do Task A, but allow no more than Q hours to find your own solutions before asking for teacher help"
- Teachers to be given basic guidance on adjusting their expectations in-line with experience, to check that both initial teaching and subsequent support was understood and to repeat that support where necessary, etc.
- Teachers to enquire how stressful the child finds it, how hard it is for them, and every two weeks say, chat to the home carer or parent to confirm their impression of the child’s mental state, and to call in counselling support based on various triggers. The teacher should have a private arrangement, or someone the child trusts at school, to share confidentiality their concerns as a check on the physical and mental state of the child, parent, or teacher, and to have the tools for this
- Some parents would have difficulty getting their children to put in the necessary hours of work, and some parents are abusive to their children and partners who are unable to avoid such abuse because they are self-isolating. Such abuse not only increases the risk of mental harm, but reduces performance. We need to develop some means of reducing or overcoming these issues in both ’normal’ life and in a country crisis situation.
F) "The financial implications of closures for providers”: They are to be supported, just like businesses, to prevent them going under, not by loans alone, but by grants as well. If loans are used, their size should be such that they are likely to be repayable within a year or two no matter what the event duration is, and for them to be written-off if it is not repayable because of lack of profits and income as evidenced in their tax returns.
G) "The effect on disadvantaged groups”: Those with special educational needs should continue to receive specialised services wherever possible, as parents are unlikely to cope and are likely to suffer mentally and possibly physically as they lack the knowledge, skills and experience to cope alone on a full-time basis. If they have to cope, then they need support and guidance, both written and by use of telephone or video tools such as Zoom. An allowance should be provided to all parents to account for the increased use of their own resources that the school itself normally provides, e.g. meals, paper and ink.
H) "What contingency planning can be done”:
- Use this current experience to gain lessons, just like 9/11 provided lessons, and build possible pandemic like scenarios from war to contamination to recall situations, and establish strategies to cope, including expectations placed on businesses to support rather than just stop working, and for these to be tested by computer simulation with the most likely type of events to be emulated through practical tests, especially for scenarios that have similarities. These need to take account of possible pandemic and war type issues impacting logistics and supplies. The government of the time has to be ruthlessly honest in telling us that we cannot all be protected, that pre-conceived ideas of societal aspects of importance must take place over personal freedom and safety, just as priority was given to the NHS that fortunately the UK population as a whole agreed to, unlike my perception of the American people who valued their personal freedom to act in whatever way they wished over their personal safety, or the safety of others in their midst. These cultural difference indicates the need for the development of interpersonal skills and team working skills with discerning researching capabilities to form an essential part of our education.
- What if we have multiple disasters at the same time, e.g. earthquake damage and an epidemic or a successful damaging cyber attack on utilities or emergency service operational systems? How will we cope then?
- When it comes to pandemics and airborne contamination such as Strontium90, how do we cope then?
- We have a potential for common cause and common mode failures. What if a contagion or poison enters our water system that is not easily combatted, just as airborne viruses are not easily combatted: how will we cope?
- Our ability to cope depends on our innate abilities. For this reason:
- Business training levies should be supported by Ofsted style auditing of training and provision, to achieve comparable training provision, so that businesses take on and develop their own young person skills and not rely solely on schools and colleges, with the latter providing the theoretical basis of achieving professionalism in their chosen field.
- Children grow into adults. Many adults are unfamiliar with the use of data, and everyone is affected by fake news. These factors affect how our society respond to a crisis, hence education is important, not just schooling. A few thoughts come to mind regarding our educational needs for the future, without which a democratic society will fail to implement contingency plans:
- Part of schooling is now going to be difficult. We need to become both self aware on how easy it is to be convinced of something that appears in the news and in adverts, whatever its source, so as not to be unduly influenced, to question what we have been told by checking it through other sources and not relying on personal conjecture, and somehow to be aware of how to identify trustworthy sources of information, as even our News Presenters are often not impartial when interviewing, say politicians, by expecting too much too soon and ignoring facts in order to be news worthy.
- The ideas of data analysis, how it can be used and abused, and the need for careful scrutiny. Adults need to be taught that data can only provide insight late into an event as the data becomes available, as well as decisions are based on available data and current imperfect thinking at the time, and that only hindsight provides insight, lessons learnt, and we should not call them mistakes or point blame, and that we should accept human error of judgement as part of life, and not expect resignations because of them.
- When talking about data and science, their interplay with societal needs and expectations need to be explored so that children and adults gain a grasp of the concept of systems and inter-related systems and the need for compromise, and the need to take account of the psychological impact of decisions made, however poor our ability to do so, and that all decisions have negative impacts both thought of, i.e. considered, and unexpected.
- Finally, we are unlikely ever to achieve true world peace, so military technological capability is also needed, and that requires funding for science and technological innovation and development. The UK seems to be outsourcing these, and national resources like infrastructure and NHS related services, yet we know from bitter experience that outsourcing on the whole ends up being more expensive, less safe, and reduces our technical capabilities as a nation, and has resulted in businesses no longer wanting to pay for the training of our young, preferring to complain that they cannot get the skills needed that they once provided in the 1960s and 1970s through decent 4-5 year apprenticeships. It seems that it may be too late to reverse some of the damage done by consecutive governments, whose parties preferred to win the next election and take short term measures of selling off assets rather than admit we can’t afford to maintain the status quo.
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