Reflections on a pandemic
‘It is what it is, and we are where we are’.
Imagining a ‘new normal’ is backward looking, argues Ger Graus. For Ger, it’s time to build on what we have learned in 2020, move on to create genuine opportunity for all children, globally.
A reality check to build on
Things should do what they say they do on the tin. Everybody ended up using the term ‘the new normal’ and I am not sure that anybody really knew what that meant, except that our situation had changed because of a global pandemic and things were very different to what they were before. ‘It is what it is and, we are where we are’ is much clearer. It is realistic. It is real. It is not full of false promises and it is not defeatist. It says to me that we have to make the most of the situation we are in, do it as soon as possible and to the best of our ability, rather than pontificate about what might be, whether it is any better or worse, and what the future might look like.
In the 2021 version of ‘it is what it is, and we are where we are’ we cannot waste time or energy when it comes to our children’s education and our children’s futures. We can also neither be dull nor risk averse. So, it struck me very early on that we needed immediate action as best as we possibly could, led by the people who knew best – the teachers of course. So far as global education is concerned, I believe that now we are where we are because of, in the most positive sense, the brilliant jobs that so many teachers, associated school staff, and school leaders have performed.
Building on this achievement
Children are born competent in learning and in living. I am not so sure that it is up to us to prepare our children for this ‘new normal’. What I do believe is that we need to put children into the position where they can write their own narrative of the possible, where they can make sense of the world around them and make the most of the opportunities on offer, where they understand the ‘why?’ and know about the ‘how?’. We as adults can direct the traffic of experiences and point towards new pathways, and we should be the guides to keep things safe and on the straight and narrow. We can equip our children to cope with bumps in the road. We need to look at who we mean by children and what we mean by preparing them for their todays and tomorrows. These are the basics and the constants in the debate themed ‘education versus schooling’. In that sense COVID-19 is merely a diversion.
Reflections on inequality
The 2021 version of ‘it is what it is, and we are where we are’, for a very significant number of children globally, is that they have learnt and have been schooled at home. Many have also realised more clearly the differences between being schooled and being educated. The 2021 version of ‘it is what it is, and we are where we are’ also is that being schooled at home was much easier for some than for others. If you have no internet connection at home, you cannot be taught online. If you do have an internet connection at home, there are four of you, only one laptop or one tablet and one quiet room, then things become difficult. We need to look into the context of the children and collectively try to create level playing fields that allow as much opportunity as possible. This would mean rethinking infrastructure.
It isn’t just about thinking how we can get a maths or English lesson to the children, but it is much more about how we can get all children equipped to learn as well as they possibly can and to fulfil their potential. That in turn is a responsibility for governments, local authorities, and schools as centres of communities to provide that access and to enable this levelling of playing fields. It also means pressure on the private sector to replace the return-on-investment dogma with a return-on-involvement principle. “Every child becomes everyone’s responsibility”[i]. We must not confuse preparing children for the 2021 version of ‘it is what is, and we are where we are’ with simply schooling them at home in some form or another, pretending all children are equal. They are not, and now is the moment to act; not just out of kindness but out of fairness and necessity, and in the future interest of all.
Global solutions for global problems
What we can learn from the global pandemic is first and foremost that it is just that: global. That we are part of a global society where events can have global consequences, and that when we act in unison as global citizens, we are much better than when we do so on our own. That global citizenship is not a threat to local or national identity but that it enhances us as human beings. I hope that it is a lesson that our children learn better than we did because it holds for better futures with better solutions.
The importance of kindness
My final observation is about kindness. One of the ingredients that was so important during the 2020 version of ‘it is what it is, and we are where we are’ is kindness. At the end of a year that asked so much of us all, it is worth reflecting on the riches we have and those we have to give and share. We have, in one way or another, all had to cope with different circumstances that have challenged us: working from home, in hospitals and schools, learning from home, missing friends, not seeing our relatives or worse, feeling lonely, not being able to spend our time as we would normally – there is a very long list. One of the main reasons that we have coped with this list and have been able to make the most of life is because other people who were around us were kind to us; other people around us realised that like themselves the person standing next to them might occasionally also struggle. In that sense, I can only hope that this spirit of 2020 will keep on giving in 2021. “Today you could be standing next to someone who is trying their best not to fall apart. Whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart”[ii].
Prof Dr Ger Graus OBE is the Global Director of Education for KidZania and a Visiting Professor at the National Research University, Higher School of Economics Institute of Education, Moscow. More importantly, he is also a Dad of three, a Dog-Walker of two, and a Husband of one.
[i] Vanessa Langley – Executive Headteacher, Arbourthorne & Gleadless Primary School Federation.