When I was growing up a popular way that Australians liked to refer to their country was “The lucky country”. There are so many things about Australia that make it somewhere very special to live. Our climate, our freedom, the fact that we have never experienced wide-scale war or civil unrest and, more recently, we have one of the lowest rates of infection of Covid-19 in the world.
It hasn’t meant that we aren’t restricted in our movements. Where I am living public gatherings of more than two people are illegal, schools for the most part are closed, non-essential retailers are closed, gyms and many health related services are also closed. In the supermarkets there have been shortages of flour, meat, pasta, rice and of course toilet paper. For a short while a visit to the supermarket was a little crazy. The “Stay home and save lives” message is in full swing. According to our health experts it is working. We have had a significant reduction in active cases across the country. For almost two weeks our daily increase in cases has been at one percent or less.
With all of this happening the news is now full of interviews with psuedo experts (because of course the real experts are a tad busy doing actual science right now) speculating on when we will be allowed out again. This question is not just around when we will be allowed to go to the pub or to parties with friends. This is also about people being allowed to return to work. Many people are unemployed right now because so many businesses were forced to close. Our government seems to have created a money pit somewhere judging by the number of programs that have been announced, to give financial support to newly unemployed, businesses affected, people who can’t pay loans, the list goes on and on.
In the background of this is school closures. Australian schools close for two weeks around Easter so in the last month schools have been inactive as they would normally. About five weeks ago (two weeks before holidays started) when cases were on the rise, we were seeing horrific images from Italy and the UK there was a lot of panic and discussion about the safety of schools. I work in a high school. It is impossible to socially distance teenagers in the classroom and the playground. I don’t even want to consider how difficult it would be in a primary school. Public opinion was that schools are breeding grounds to spread disease. A lot of the time they are. First year teachers will tell you they get sicker in that first year of being in front of kids than they ever have in their life. Why? About half of it is probably because stress has weakened their immune system but the other half is because kids are festy. (For those of you unfamiliar with this term Urban dictionary comes to the rescue!)
So parents started taking their kids out of school. As the numbers of students at school dwindled other students begged to be allowed to stay home sensing the opportunity to extend their impending holidays. Then, bowing to union and public pressure our state government caved and closed schools. There was a week of frantic preparation for online delivery and two weeks of time which was designated as holiday time. I don’t think there is a teacher alive who didn’t spend at least half of that time in front of a computer struggling with unfamiliar technology trying to put together meaningful learning experiences. The image featured above is of a doodle I did during this time to remind myself that my life is much better than many others.
The week just passed has been the first official week of “remote learning”. For different schools this looks different. For my niece and nephews it is hard. They don’t live close to a major city, their internet in a word is shit!. Remote delivery of lessons for them is problematic. For many schools Microsoft One Note was the go to. In the words of our school IT manager “One Note needs about two weeks in iso!” It failed and caused much hair pulling and frustration.
For the students, their anticipated extended holiday turned out to be a failure. No trips to the beach, camping cancelled, no shopping centers open, nothing to do except sit at home with video games and social media. The first week of remote learning was frustrating for many, and while it was a break from routine it wasn’t a substitute for interaction with actual humans.
In my own little corner of the world we are relatively blessed. We have an IT manager who deserves a sainthood. We have parents who have stepped up in their support and positivity. There have been social media posts about us. Flowers, chocolates and cakes delivered to school for us. It has been nothing short of empowering. But it has been hard. We are meeting online with our students, via Microsoft Teams for every one of their scheduled lessons. We are planning classes and material as if we are in our regular timetable but instead of delivering the way we normally would we are delivering online. It requires a HUGE amount of planning. Simple tasks like marking a roll would normally take five minutes are now taking 10 – 15 minutes.
Now the talk has turned to students returning to school. Our federal government has indicated that all of their information shows regular school is safe for most healthy children. These children will not pose a risk to their teachers. With exceptions of course. Older teachers and those with health conditions need to be cautious and removed. Despite this there are some political undercurrents that do not bode well. Unions are flexing their muscle; and our union funded state government, that controls schooling, is at odds with the federal government who sits on the other side of the political fence. As is often the case with education, teachers and students are at the mercy of decisions made by people who have no vested interest in benefiting either party.
The original date for return to regular classes was May 20. Five weeks into the term. One week of this type of schooling has felt like about five for most of us. If there was an announcement that regular school was starting back up on Monday (two days from now) there would be very few teachers that I know who would be unhappy about it. Sadly I don’t think this will be the case.
For those of you reading this and living in other, more affected parts of the world, my thoughts are with you, stay safe and take care of your wellbeing. Most importantly take care of your mental health.
This post is part of Food 4 Thought #146 “Lockdown”. Please make the time to head over and read some other posts.