Brussels (Brussels Morning) In Finland, schools are just beginning their autumn term. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, schools will reopen as normal and thousands of teachers will return to teaching. With COVID-19, we have realised the importance of a good education. Research shows that many children and young people were negatively affected by distance learning. Social networks are not the same as normal education and many people are feeling lonely.
We have always known that education is the best guarantee for a good life and a successful one too, but now we know how much schools also help in social interaction. We need to see each other face to face. We are not created to live alone. At school, children also face the caring adult, the teacher. Many children do not have the best and safest homes and sometimes there may be a huge need for someone who will listen. With distance learning, this has not been possible at all.
In Finland, we have found out that distance learning has also created shortcomings in teaching. There will be so much work to do to address all these shortcomings. For children with learning difficulties, distance learning does not provide security for learning. Therefore, in Finland, children in grades 1 to 3 and also children in special education were allowed to come to school as normal, while others were at home in distance learning. I myself taught immigrant children at the time and we were also conducting face-to-face teaching. I noticed how important it was to face them every day. WhatsApp-call are not the same as facing each other in person.
But the pandemic, lockdown and school closures not only affected children in Finland; it negatively affected children all over the world and in particular girls from poorer countries and backgrounds, who do not have access to the internet or cannot afford the technology to gain access to distance/online classes.
In a recent survey conducted by UN Educational and Cultural Agency (UNESCO); the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the World Bank, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), are urging governments to reopen all schools and have warned that “the losses children and young people incur from missing out on school may never be recouped.”
“From learning loss, mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, to missed school-based meals and vaccinations or reduced development of social skills, the consequences for children will be felt in their academic achievement and societal engagement as well as physical and mental health,” they said.
It is painful to see how the pandemic in widening the inequality gap and affecting those who need us the most, in particular girls and women. School closures have also affected the parents, but mainly the mothers, who have been forced to leave their jobs to stay at home to care for their children. Or in countries where financial help has been limited or not available at all during the pandemic, parents and mainly single mothers, have been forced to leave their children at home alone in order to continue working and earn a living, putting their children at risk as well as having to fend for themselves.
We do not wish for this pandemic to stay with us, but what we do hope is that this shows also how important it is to give everyone the chance to get the education they require and attend school. We still have a long way to go for every child, and in particular female children, to receive their own place at school and in this way, a greater chance of a better life of their own.
Finland has always been a model country for teaching. Now we have noticed that we have made some huge mistakes in education. The worst measure a government can take is to save money by cutting education budgets. In Finland, there were many years when Social Democrats were unfortunately in opposition and the Coalition Party and Centre Party made many cuts in the education budget. Now we are paying for this. In our schools, learning differences have grown and learning results now usually depend on the child’s social background. In the past, we had huge success in eliminating learning gaps. But with the cuts, we have regressed and returned to having poor results again.
The good news is that Social Democrats are in government again and our Social Democratic Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, is making good progress by restoring education to the glory it deserves. It is time to realise that it is education that makes the world a success.