As people in Greece count their fourth stay-at-home week, they are starting to realize that the social distancing conditions may last longer than they had imagined. In this unprecedented situation, personal choice has a higher significance than governmental rules. The role of the individual as part of a group has never been more evident and more crucial. A crisis that asks that asks of us simply to stay home comes as a test of our responsibility, our power and our ethos.
The multiple ongoing upheavals require adaptations and flexibility. The management of this crisis is multilayered, as is the underlying anxiety that takes on different faces for the child, the teenager, the employed, the unemployed, the pensioner. Anything that suggests normality comes as a redemption. This is confirmed by educators all over Greece who are warmly welcomed on their students’ laptop screens, as online classes are in progress. While there is no doubt about the value of these lessons and the expedience of continuing whatever activities can be facilitated by technology, there is a persistent issue of linking school lessons to the school’s ecosystem, that is, to our surroundings which now happen to be more globalized than ever before. How realistic, how courageous and, ultimately, how didactic is it to look away? To pretend that mathematics, history, language and chemistry are more important than the majestic lesson that the forceful present circumstances can teach us?
Now that children and young adults are restricted at home, experiencing the collapse of what was perceived as inviolable and facing a threat to normality, they have their minds and souls open. They are ready to be engaged in procedures of reflection and to reconsider what is important in life. When something breaks down, you look at rebuilding it with better materials and improved design. There is no better moment to discuss ethics and values with them, to develop their critical thinking – and acting – skills, their sense of responsibility, their resilience, their adaptability and other soft skills. It is now, amid sweeping fluidity, that children need to be engaged in substantial conversations motivated and guided by their teachers.
Aiming at covering the curriculum sounds currently almost irrelevant. Teachers can use available distance learning and communication tools to discuss with their students and comment on some of the dilemmas and challenges we are currently faced with: What is the relation between the individual and the collective? Does one of the two matter more right now? What is more important to protect: human life or economy and prosperity? How and where do we seek reliable information? How do we evaluate it? What is our role in circulating information? Should we abide by the rules and why? How do you balance personal freedom to respect of the rights of others? What factors are crucial when managing a crisis in general and the current pandemic specifically? Which approaches seem to be effective and which not? What are the characteristics of these approaches? What is the role of leaders in this health crisis? How are leading figures revealed in times of crisis? What are their defining traits? How can a crisis like this one redefine balance among the most powerful countries, question the traditional hegemony of some and feature the potential of others? How is European solidarity put to the test? What is the role of civic society in times of crisis? How are exponential technologies used during this crisis? In which fields and with what results? How is the economy affected?
The questions are endless and so is the arising learning opportunity. Teachers could – and should – provide students with the methodologies and framework to deliberate such questions, which can obviously be adapted according to the age of students (e.g. Why should I stay home? Can I be safe? How? Why and how can I help others not become seriously ill?). Adopting a transgenerational approach, by designing a special framework of participation for the family, including parents, siblings and grandparents (even by phone, because now is the time that they need to participate more than ever), would add real value to the procedure. It is time for life lessons rather than focus on subject courses. Kids will have the chance to learn physics, math and other subjects in the coming years. It is now, however, that we need to learn the valuable lessons the pandemic is teaching us, which should be placed at the center of e-learning activity today.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a huge lesson with immeasurable damage. Let’s view the homes in which we are forced to stay as classrooms of unique potential. Since we are taking the lesson, let’s at least learn it this time.
Sevasti-Sofia Anthopoulou, M.Ed., is an education policy expert.