We are living in a strange world right now. All over the planet, ever since COVID hit, we have been reinventing ourselves, our routines, our relationships, our cultures, our communities, our education, and our work. In every country, this reinvention is unique and nuanced due to each specific context. I have experienced this pandemic in two countries, Argentina, and New Zealand. It is impossible to compare (so I won’t) how both countries have managed the pandemic because of the incredibly different social, cultural, political, geographical, and economical (the list of words ending in ‘al’ could stretch on forever) environments of each.
After arriving back to Argentina from New Zealand where, bar the outbreak in Auckland and ongoing financial difficulties due to the virus, life is almost back to normal. What has recently jumped out of my soup is the realisation that September 1st marked six months from the day that schools shut down here in Argentina.
It is not the lack of academic work I am concerned about. It is the negative social/emotional impact that six months of social isolation has on these young developing human beings. In our time here working with children living in vulnerable circumstances we have come to experience that even when schools are running as normal, many of the young kids lack the type of education that enables them to deal with everyday life.
At Food for Thought, our space has transformed from its original format that delivered education, to a space that focusses on therapeutic support for healthy development. Not knowing much about the educational environment for children of the community of Monte Chingolo back in 2013, we started out offering healthy food combined with small workshops based on fun educational activities such as art, music, and theatre. We also started a homework club so that the kids could receive some support with their schoolwork.
Very quickly it became evident that hardly any of the children were receiving adequate instruction to be able to complete the homework tasks that they were being set. Note that I am not blaming schools and teachers as I understand the extremely difficult circumstances that they are faced with trying to teach kids in this community. So, we had to constantly ignore the homework and go back to basics so that the kids had a base to launch from.
You can imagine the confidence levels of these kids if they were struggling to complete the homework being set for them. The number of breakdowns that we would see in those homework clubs was ridiculous. Within our daily activities, we would also notice the lack of social and emotional understanding that the kids had of themselves and those around them. School was not supporting them to be able to interact, communicate, and thrive in social situations. On top of this, because of the lack of this particular type of education, going back many generations, the kids had to deal with all sorts of issues within their home environments.
Over time, we have been assessing our effectiveness, identifying our strengths, and addressing our shortcomings to be able to best support these kids in ‘today’s world’. I say today’s world because it is changing faster than ever! The answer that we keep landed on is a therapeutic one. We all suffer in some, way, shape, or form from traumatic childhood experiences. We have come to understand that to best support the positive development of these kids, we need to focus on their social and emotional needs first. Yes, we can engage in all sorts of educational activity, but the common underlying through-line is their social and emotional development.
So, we know that these children are already left wanting in terms of their social/emotional needs. Now six months of being locked in their homes is going to have disastrous implications. What makes it exponentially worse is that school will not start back this year and when it does it will be March 2021, so they have another six months of the same! Our mental health is directly related to physical contact and social connection. The large part of that happens at school. All school-aged children and young adults here in Argentina will be seriously impacted by not having physical contact with their pairs for a year!
I hate to be ‘Negative Nigel’ but it is the reality with which we are facing today! It is going to be extremely interesting to see the social implications emerging from this pandemic for today’s young people over the coming years and into their adult lives. Maybe New Zealand has escaped it with a lockdown of a little longer than the summer school holidays, but in places like Argentina, there are going to be some extremely negative consequences as a result of mass, long-term isolation of young people!