A wise man during lockdown in Pakistan
I met a wise man the other day, a Kenja 賢者, as they say in Japan. But I am in Pakistan.
I am an evaluator, and I visit schools. This is what I do: I observe learning happening, and give recommendations on any areas for development.
So this week I was excited to visit a school after a break of almost ten months. I wasn’t sure if anyone else was as excited as me. The sheer thought of going into a class full of students was reassuring that life is limping back to normal.
Schools are schools when children are present
Otherwise they are just buildings. I took extra care to dress up, in a nice understated manner, to look good for children. The school had planned a warm welcome for me. Being an early years school, four to five year olds standing in the reception with a bouquet of flowers — the usual scene. But what was not usual was the fact that all the little ones were particular about wearing masks- of bright colors — Disney characters printed on them. None of them extended their hands for a handshake. It was impressive to see how the little ones adapted themselves to the SOPs imposed.
They had organized a short ceremony of planting a sapling, to mark my visit. And then I was taken by surprise. The Kenja, my guide, six year old Hasan, who was helping me with the sapling kept on repeating in excitement:
Thank God you came! A visitor! Do you know you are a visitor! We have a visitor in our school!
I smiled and asked why it was so exciting to have a visitor in school. I wiped a tear when he replied,
Visitors don’t come anymore! We have COVID-19 and visitors don’t even come to my home. We have to stay three feet away. We cannot hug.
I am so happy you visited! I want to take off my mask and go swimming with friends, but instead he helped me water the plants commemorating my visit.
The impact of COVID on school children
Hasan’s sentiments didn’t leave me. We think children do not worry much about what is happening around them; they are so engrossed in their play, their games and toys that they may not feel affected or afflicted, but this is where we are wrong.
I wonder how much they miss their old routines. Do they miss playdates? Do they feel the same comfort when they listen to the teacher’s voice which is a notch louder in an online class? What do they make of the teacher’s writing on the whiteboard in a synchronous class? Are the Math problems as easy to solve in a remote class as in face to face classes? What about the excitement and anticipation with which children wait for break time, and look forward to spending the pocket money at the tuckshop? How does one deal with almost a year of just sitting in front of a screen?
For them, this year is a a large part of their short lives. They are suffering an enormous upheaval on a scale that we have not seen in this lifetime. There have been many sudden changes to their lives and so much is yet unknown about the long-term impacts of this crisis, which requires us to be vigilant and do everything possible to limit the impact on young minds. We need to equip ourselves with skills to detect and respond to signs of distress and depression among children during lockdown and once these children return to public life.
Books from Pakistan about Pandemics
Afshan Khalid is an educationist and a certified counselor. She has studied English Literature, Psychology and Textile Designing. Trained as an evaluator from the New Zealand government department-Education Review Office, she has led more than 350 evaluations of Beaconhouse schools across Pakistan, Malaysia, Oman and UAE, giving her a rare opportunity to diversify her narrative by observing learning across cultures and contexts. She has also observed the Japanese system of education closely in different prefectures and learned from their good practices during her home stays in Tokyo, Giffu and Kyoto, Japan. Married to a pilot, with two fantastic kids, Afshan loves to connect with people and spread positivity.