Errol Comrie is determined that the pandemic will not prevent any of his students from taking exams and âhaving a chance in life,â but it all depends on whether they pass another test they cannot study for.
- Underprivileged UK students lost up to three months of learning during pandemic
- Children from high-income households were only two weeks late
- The pandemic has also had profound impacts on the mental health and well-being of young people.
In the UK, all senior students are required to take two COVID-19 tests per week if they wish to come to class in person.
But it is a small price to pay to keep the school open, Mr Comrie, director of City Heights Academy in London, told the ABC.
âWe need our children at school,â he said.
“It’s good to say ‘educate them at home’, but for some of our kids, they just don’t have room for it.”
More than half of City Heights Academy students rely on free school meals.
âLast year we were busy figuring out how to provide food to our families who needed it,â Mr. Comrie said.
âWe are very closely connected to the community and the impact of COVID on homes here has been significant.
“[There was] a lack of jobs, people were getting sick, the space from which some young people had to work was really difficult. “
After months of turmoil, Comrie feared some of his students would see their futures permanently altered by the pandemic.
He and his colleagues were not going to let this happen without a fight.
Learning lost due to a global crisis
The boroughs around City Heights Academy had some of the highest levels of COVID-19 infection in the capital.
The South London school needs to deal with outbreaks to ensure their doors stay open, so they keep age groups in “bubbles” to minimize the spread, and some students choose to wear masks.
They also turned their gym into a mass testing center on the first day of the term to show students how to do the tests correctly.
They are now expected to do the tests themselves at home.
âIt’s really normal and I feel safe because everyone has tested negative,â Cecilia Santos, 15, said of the new routine she is now following.
âIt’s just great to be able to socialize with friends and teachers again.
“I really prefer physical learning.”
After several school closings in 2020 and 2021, government reports estimate that the disruption left many months of students behind and it was disadvantaged students who missed out the most.
A report prepared for the UK Department of Education found that by the end of 2020 disadvantaged high school students in England had missed around 3.7 months of learning, while well-off students were on the right track.
Primary school-aged children from disadvantaged backgrounds were three months behind what they should be, while children from better-off families were only two weeks behind.
“The young people we serve, taking exams is probably the most important part of their lives because it changes their chances in life,” said Mr. Comrie.
COVID-19 could worsen inequalities for a generation
Natalie Perera, who heads the organization that performed the analysis of school data for the government report, said the pandemic was having a huge impact on equality in education for students.
While the education gap between rich and poor students existed long before the pandemic, disruptions at school could exacerbate these problems, Ms. Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute, told the ABC.
âBy the age of 16, disadvantaged children were over a year and a half behind their wealthier peers and that gap had stopped narrowing before the pandemic,â she said.
“Now we have seen during the pandemic that they have fallen even further behind.”
Studies outside the United States and Australia paint a similar picture.
Children from affluent families fare better thanks to better digital connectivity, study spaces and parental support.
Teachers, schools and parents are working to give students the best start in life and overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus, Ms. Perera said.
âThey’ve done so much already to deal with COVID, to deliver the program,â she said.
Teachers fight for their students
City Heights Academy has a grand plan to tackle the task ahead, confident that it can handle COVID-19 and make up for lost time.
“We will overcome COVID, we have to do it,” Mr. Comrie said.
“If we have identified any gaps in children’s learning, this recovery program is in place to address that problem.”
There is another reason he is determined to keep the school open: it is a “safe place” for many students.
Cecilia Santos is a bright student who aspires to attend college, but even she has found elements of home learning difficult.
âIt’s more difficult to contact teachers because everything is done by email.
“It’s so good to be back.”
Research shows that the mental health and well-being of young people have been deeply affected, and this must be taken into account by governments when planning an “education recovery”, according to Perera.
“We have to finance it [by government] but we also need society and the whole country to focus on correcting these inequalities, âshe said.
“We have seen governments in the United States and the Netherlands really investing in the recovery of education – this is what is needed to end new inequalities.”
Mr Comrie said it was a personal mission for him to keep the children safe.
âEducation is power,â he said.
“It’s social mobility, and I’ve seen how it changes lives.”
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