From the first hours of the alarm state by covid-19, we alerted about the nonsense and negative side effects of strict confinement for a healthy childhood. Damages that were initially ignored by the Government, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) and various experts, but which are now recognized by numerous studies, including the AEP. The World Health Organization itself has identified children and adolescents among the main populations at risk in mental health due to confinement. The recently announced measures to resume activity in schools are, from our point of view, equally inadequate: they are not justified from a medical-scientific point of view, suffer from the same lack of sensitivity towards childhood and run the risk of traumatizing children. some young people already sufficiently punished for this senseless crisis management.
No coronavirus can reign in school
The images of the beginning of the course in some educational centers in other countries show a cold and robotic school that nobody would want to go to: creatures with masks queuing up a meter away; in desolate classrooms covered in white and red ribbons; listening to masked teachers; with strange anti-personnel helicopter hats; in the courtyard, separated by huge white squares … or eternally plugged into a screen.
It is not necessary to be an educator to realize the difficulty, the folly of implementing most of these measures with children and young people. Even the success in achieving it represents, paradoxically, the failure of the teaching task, because they border on negligence and ignorance to children and their needs.
Pedagogues know well that in creatures emotion and non-verbal communication prevail over rational discourse. Explicit “It’s-to-protect-you-from-the-Covid-Better” messages never educate. Instead, the implicit ideas and values that are silently expressed in the required actions and behaviors are forcefully imprinted on the delicate child spirit: “Your-body-is-dangerous-for-others. The-body-of-your-companions-and-companions-is-dangerous-for-you. Your-family-is-not-welcome-here ”.
These types of messages are inappropriate in any circumstance, but even more so with fragile creatures, physically and mentally, for several months of confinement. Anxious, scared, guilty, lacking in play, socialization, and perhaps depressed and even obsessed with cleanliness. Faced with this absolute insensitivity to their various individual and collective conditions, many professionals prefer not to go back to school and many mothers prefer not to take their children before doing so under those conditions.
Do creatures not have the right to be welcomed as they deserve and to fully enjoy their childhood, even in times of pandemic? Is it reasonable to be planning a school trip based on the Covid-19 and forget the educational needs? What evidence do we have that the announced measures serve to prevent a new outbreak?
Health qualities of those solutions
First of all, we must remember that boys and girls are not super contagious nor do they suffer from covid-19 disease as much as adults and, if they do, it is with mild symptoms. The risk for boys and girls and for their teachers is minimal, hundreds of times lower than that of other seasonal viruses with which we have lived for years. Pathogens that produce respiratory diseases in an epidemic way in important population groups, that put our health system to the limit, and that cause the death of many people.
The most dangerous in childhood is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) that causes bronchiolitis, a disease that attacks 34 million children under the age of five every year, and causes the death of 66,000 to 200,000 of them, in addition to causing thousands of adult deaths. In Spain, every year 100,000 children get bronchiolitis and about 20,000 require hospitalization (AEP 2019). Like covid-19, bronchiolitis has neither effective treatment nor vaccine. It is incongruous that, if due to a virus such as RSV, which passes from children to adults and vice versa, we confine ourselves or modify the school, but with this coronavirus, which infrequently affects children, they take, in our opinion, such drastic measures in schools – (indicated in the exploded annex).
An opportunity to make school more humane
All in all, the covid-19 can be a magnificent opportunity to advance towards that more humane school, based on contact with oneself, with others and with the natural world, with which some of us have been dreaming and working for decades.
These would be some of its characteristics:
An intimate school: In the first place, it seems essential to lower the ratios, a historical claim of the teachers: not to maintain the safety distance, but for educational, care and health criteria understood as physical, mental and social well-being. Although with different intensities and nuances, the childhood of the times of the covid-19 has received a severe blow. According to some studies, one in four minors suffers from anxiety after confinement. The house has been presented to them as the only safe place, and many will have a hard time getting used to being with their peers again. The school should welcome them warmly, in small groups, offering them the intimate spaces they need to elaborate and integrate these traumatic and extraordinary experiences. It should help them regain confidence and security in themselves, in others, and in life. Creating small communities focused on care makes it easier to control and monitor possible infections. As in families of origin, people touch each other and take care of themselves, it is about creating extended families, almost always made up of the same people, with the commitment and responsibility to take care of themselves. A school that celebrates life (instead of focusing on the fear of death), because caresses and hugs strengthen the immune system.
A mutual school: by lowering the ratios, it will be necessary to hire professionals, instead of leaving boys and girls at the mercy of technologies, at home or in the center’s library. Faced with the rigidity of this robotic school, focused exclusively on subjects, let’s take the opportunity to make a more organic and flexible school, focused on people. In addition to hiring teachers, you can appeal to volunteers from their own families, associations, trainees … A diversity that multiplies the talents and abilities available, without undermining human warmth. Another interesting option is to renounce from time to time the simultaneity of teaching and the rigidity of the graduate school, to organize flexible groups, made up of boys and girls of different ages, in which the older ones share their knowledge and assume responsibilities towards the smallest.
A coherent school: One of the most difficult aspects of this crisis has been the proliferation of norms that have suddenly invaded our lives and complicated the task of transmitting them to children. Some of them strict and prohibitive, meaningless and difficult to explain; others excessively ambiguous, difficult to understand and interpret. To grow healthily and responsibly, children need a coherent normative system, on which they can reflect, that they can understand and explain, in which they can participate and, if necessary, also contribute to change. This is a fundamental aspect of the moral, political and democratic education of a people, which the school cannot neglect.
A renatured school: nature is a fundamental resilience factor for post-confinement childhood. It provides boys and girls with everything they need to grow and develop healthily on a physical, emotional, social, creative and intellectual level. To regain security and trust. It offers alternative spaces to classrooms to accommodate small care communities: renatured patios, gardens, orchards, groves, beaches, parks and nearby squares. Contact with nature will help boys and girls to overcome their difficulties more easily, and to prevent possible chronification of them.
Another school is possible after this coronavirus, but the one that is being proposed, based on fear of the virus and not based on educational needs, is not adequate.
Drastic measures? of hygiene in schools to prevent covid-19
Let’s see the effectiveness of some of them:
Masks: The European Center for Disease Control (2020) notes: “… children do not tolerate facial masks well.” The WHO (2020) recommends wearing a mask only if you are caring for a patient with Coronavirus-19, or if you yourself are sick, or cough, and warns that they are only effective if combined with frequent hand washing. Schoolchildren and their educators are not, in principle, in either of these two cases. If any teacher belongs to a risk group for Coronavirus-19, he should not go to work, because his colleagues could infect him. The witty masks with transparent plastic of the educators, so that the lips can be seen, are not approved; a complex process that requires specialized tests to certify its suitability. Moisture from condensation will make your mouth look bad, causing internal overgrowth of viruses and bacteria. We do not have conclusive studies that recommend the mask in adults, much less in children. Let’s let them enjoy breathing freely in the open air.
Distance: It is inoperative. The ratios must be calculated with educational criteria. There is a lot of inconsistency calculated? in ensuring that “until we have 60% of the infected population we will not have a herd immunity to protect us” and at the same time prevent very low-risk population groups from passing the disease. Touch and contact are essential for life. Human beings are social animals and we build ourselves in physical and energetic interaction with the other.
Compulsive hand washing with hydroalcoholic solutions: Applying hydroalcoholic solutions constantly on the hands and putting it on children kills all the skin flora; the normal thing is to end up with eczema or contact dermatitis. Girls and boys can also become intoxicated if they suck their hands. Enough the usual hand washing before meals, after the bath and if we have gotten very dirty. It is unreasonable to apply hydroalcohol every time you touch or are touched by a creature.
Sanitizing with bleach even from toys: Never before have we put so much bleach into everything. Never before have there been so many respiratory poisonings in children and adults, cutaneous in adults and gastrointestinal infections by direct direct ingestion in children, due to the excessive use of this disinfectant in such a short time. We have never spoiled so many good clothes like now. The same considerations against excessive hygiene as in the previous point apply here. Both bleach and hydroalcoholic solutions are very harmful for people of any age with dermatitis or atopic eczema.
Online education: The boys and girls of the confinement undoubtedly have a historical record in the number of hours spent in front of a screen. For years, numerous neuroscience studies have warned of the dire consequences of overexposure to screens for the developing infant brain. Furthermore, what has been called online education lacks a fundamental dimension for development and authentic learning: human contact and contact with the natural world, the basis of all experience. Screens can be a complement, never a substitute for the real world. “Its proliferation supposes the retreat towards an education thought as a mere transmission of banking knowledge”, according to the theory of Paulo Freire, pedagogue.
* Heike Freire is a mother, a philosopher, a psychologist and a pedagogue, and a teacher and family educator. And José María Paricio Talayer is a grandfather, a pediatrician, a doctor of Medicine, a graduate in Design and Statistics in Health sciences and president of APILAM.
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