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Back to School or Back to Step One

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

By Mehr Lokhandwala

Image via Freepick

I remember when COVID-19 was something that we used to joke about in school. When a cough from someone would prompt joking shouts of “Oh my God, you have COVID!” However, as COVID-19 spread across the world, it became abundantly clear that this was no joke. COVID-19 has impacted everyone's lives in one way or another. For many students, our very way of learning has been irreparably changed.

As our learning shifted online, we quickly adapted to the changes in our education. Tests, presentations, meetings, and homework all became virtual. While it was a rocky start, many students started to get better grades and work in stress-free environments at home.

Of course, with any argument, there is another side. I want to acknowledge that I write this article with a lot of privilege; a stable home, access to technology and WiFi, and not having to worry about income in this pandemic. All these things play a huge role allowing me to work from home with ease. When writing articles like this it is easy to forget that other people are not in the same situation as myself. Therefore, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this may not be the case for everyone.

As schools start opening and we move into a different phase of this pandemic, many students are filled with stress about returning to school. In the middle of a pandemic, it is safer for students to remain at home, rather than going to school. Not only does this protect students and staff, but this also helps flatten the curve.

Many schools fail to provide soap and paper towels in our washrooms. With washing our hands being such a crucial part of keeping safe from COVID-19, we are going to be risking a drastic rise in our cases. Additionally, it is recommended that we stay in groups of two to six people, but most high schools have over 1,000 students, making this impossible.

The risk of transmission does not just affect students and staff. If someone contracts COVID-19, they will bring it home with them and pass it on to the other people living in their house, and the people who live in their house will pass it to others; and then we will be back at square one.

Dr Bonnie Henry, Specialist in Public Health and Preventive Medicine, has said that it is safer to stay in groups of two to six people and that keeping our bubble small is important. Yet, in the plan to open schools, students will be in learning groups with 120 other students. This is more than twenty times the number of people we should be in contact with.

"We are taking a risk with our children’s lives" - Erin Casey

Next, the government, school districts and staff should be made aware that many students and parents would rather have school online than physically go to school. CTV NEWS interviewed Erin Casey, a mother of three not planning to send her boys back to school. She explains how "by sending our children to school with very limited precautions and next to no [physical] distancing required at any age, we are taking a risk with our children’s lives and long-term health as there is far too much unknown on the long-term effects of COVID.”

If we put aside the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic which makes attending school dangerous, there are many other reasons why students prefer online learning.

For many of my peers, school has diminished our mental health. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, research suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages. School is not about learning and having fun anymore. The unique things I have learnt from school is how to do eight hours of work in three hours, how to go two days on just coffee and three hours of sleep, and most importantly that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. School has stopped being about learning and more about memorizing textbooks.

In between the bullying, racism, harassment, assaults and the soul-crushing pressure of being on top of all your work, students find little time for themselves. Days without proper food (I have learnt that energy drinks and coffee are not food), showering, or any basic form of self-care have become normal for many, myself included.

When our education revolves around finding X and mixing chemicals, we do not learn how to do our taxes, secure our first apartment, or how to take care of our mental health. With little-to-no education on concepts that we will actually use in everyday life, students have quickly learnt the difference in being academically smart and 'real-life' smart.

The last topic that I want to touch on is what schools do when there is an outbreak. I already suspect (unfortunately) that we will get a letter stating ‘possible transmission’, ‘please use hand sanitizer and take precautions.’ No confirmed information will be given out. We will all return to school the next day and the lives of countless people will be at risk. With many schools already covering up assaults, bullying, or anything that would catch the eye of the media, I do not expect them to willingly disclose their specific statistics in a breakout of COVID-19 cases.

Opening our schools in the middle of a pandemic remains a controversial subject, and so, we must look at the bigger picture: we can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. I think opening our schools is a step in the wrong direction. It risks rising cases and prolonging this pandemic. We must take this opportunity to rethink our whole school systems and how we educate our young, bright minds.

Written by writer Mehr Lokhandwala

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