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CORPORATE | 04.13.2020

Balance or a balancing act? The challenge of ensuring comprehensive education in the context of a pandemic

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The advance of COVID-19 has forced most governments around the world to close schools as a preventive measure against infection. More than one billion students and young people around the world have been affected by the closure of schools and universities, according to UNESCO, which estimates that 91.3 percent of the world’s student population has had to abandon their desks. And in Latin America, according to UNICEF data, this increases to 95 percent.

Faced with the greatest educational disruption in living memory, virtual learning options have been launched in many countries, including online courses on educational platforms, but not all solutions can guarantee children’s effective access to knowledge. For, the extent of technological development, the resources available to families, and children’s familiarity with digital technology all vary greatly around the world.

COVID-19 has brought to light a number of scenarios that render all citizens vulnerable — a health crisis, economic infection, job loss, social distancing, and so on. And this is especially true for less advantaged members of society, who were vulnerable already.

Adults are experiencing heightened risk perception, but above all a responsibility overload. Families now have a duty to not only continue raising and protecting their children but to provide them with the education that has, out of necessity, been disrupted, by using the new technologies to the best of their ability. They must also ensure their well-being, provide them with “free” time for leisure within the confines of four walls. Not captives, just homebodies, but this is hardly conducive to letting off steam.

On top of the tasks and commitments involved in combining home and work, adults are also expected to find a proper explanation for their children in such an unusual and unexpected context.

The trick is to provide children with balance and hope and to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to share more everyday experiences, encourage growth and patience, even if it amounts to a balancing act on a hire wire.

For Eva Rodríguez, Assistant Director of the Diversity, Health, and Well-Being Area at MAPFRE, this time brings with it risks, but also opportunities. After this crisis, she believes that a large percentage of “children will have become more independent and responsible” in their approach to tasks, and new technologies will have been incorporated into an aspect of their lives where they weren’t really present before: the school environment, which is predominantly classroom-based in most countries.

According to Eva Rodríguez, the current circumstances are creating “an opportunity to strengthen emotional ties, although there is a risk of parents experiencing stress if schools demand too much of them or if they have not received sufficient education to answer the questions their children might have.”

She expects the main risks to also include “the possibility of falling out of routines and not reaching all academic objectives” set for students this academic year. For less privileged families, she warns of the danger that they will not have enough computers for every family member.

What are we learning from all this? That health and connection are essential parts of life, that satisfaction increases in line with the amount of effort we put in to overcoming extreme situations, that children deserve the greatest sacrifices. That we are not alone, and that the best way to deal with things is through humor and a positive spirit, that we can be flexible, without sacrificing order and routines, and that no one can have all the answers.

“An ombudsman of the future”

Javier Urra, a Doctor of both Philosophy and Health Sciences, explains that children, due to their ability to adapt, their focus on the present and daily life, are “currently the least at risk,” and rules out the possibility that confinement lasting less than one year could have a lasting neurological impact. He emphasizes the importance of “respecting children,” by answering their questions and providing them with words of security and protection.

He insists that “this is a unique opportunity to learn more about ourselves and to teach,” by sharing and discussing the news, including COVID-19, from the age of seven—he does not recommend doing so before this age—by talking about the work of society’s heroes (doctors, farmers, supermarket workers, etc.), and helping them to cultivate self-control.

The former children’s ombudsman does, however, warn that the worst will come with the economic crisis and that those who lose a loved one will need to have a period of mourning, even if it is in retrospect and symbolic, in order to be able to say goodbye.

Reflecting on what could be of the greatest help to the new generations, he mentions the creation of the “ombudsman of the future,” someone full of ability and hope, who is in close contact with young people, who can ensure the preservation of cities, the environment, the right to privacy, and ethics.

Learning from home… and enjoying it

Greeting quarantine with optimism is the unanimous recommendation of international child protection organizations and companies around the world. The United Nations has deployed the Global Education Coalition, encouraging its various agencies to collaborate with giants such as Google, Facebook, or Amazon.

Through the Memory of the World Program, UNESCO is supporting all Member States and memory institutions in their efforts to preserve and ensure public access to official records relating to COVID-19.

UNICEF, for its part, has focused on the mental health of young people during the coronavirus: it has just launched a webinar in collaboration with the WHO on this topic and is promoting the exchange of illustrations, drawings, and artistic creations from its community, Voices of Youth, to help people adapt to confinement.

The activity of museums, libraries, publishers, and companies has illustrated that knowledge knows no bounds and that the sharing of scientific, educational, and artistic potential will boost our global resistance to the pandemic.

Renowned non-profit organizations around the world, such as Fundación MAPFRE, are redoubling their efforts to help and, in this context, to spread culture and fun among the youngest members of society. #DibujaMiró is a drawing competition inspired by the work of the Spanish artist that will test their creativity, offering them a prize that can be claimed online and the publication of the winning entry.

This company is working to improve the situation of less privileged families, mainly in terms of educational support and meals. Its Sé Solidario program involves micro-donations (of up to 2,000 euros each), which will be received by small organizations from all over Spain. Once the state of emergency has normalized, Fundación MAPFRE will allocate 200,000 euros to a solidarity campaign to grant students at risk of exclusion materials to start off the new school year.