As the beginning of the new school year approaches, politicians, doctors and journalists are racing to tell us all that school must go back on time and stay open regardless.
They rightly talk about the effect that school closures have had on kids – none of us would disagree. It’s been a devastating time for all of us.
But the idea that, as we approach what will be a calamitous peak in infections, schools can carry on as normal is ludicrous.
SMH education editor, Jordan Baker, penned a piece today on “How to keep schools open in the age of Omicron.”
According to Jordan, who has patently never been employed as an educator, “schools will have to work out ways to operate with significantly fewer staff until the wave of disease peaks, and case numbers begin to fall.”
“Teachers, even those who are double vaccinated and boostered, are likely to fall ill (although the vaccination will protect most from severe illness) and this poses serious workforce issues for their bosses.”
This is not just some sort of esoteric issue for school principals to solve. You cannot open schools unless there are sufficient well teachers to staff them.
“In the United Kingdom, there have been predictions that around a quarter of teachers at any given school could be off sick or furloughed at once. NSW’s school system is already suffering a chronic shortage of casual teachers, so this could make operating schools difficult,” Jordan concedes.
Paediatrician and epidemiologist Fiona Russell says the education sector would, like all sectors, need a workforce plan.
“The UK has asked retired teachers to return. The Australian health sector is using medical students. If teachers have COVID but are asymptomatic, they could still deliver lessons remotely.”
That’s fab. Except retired teachers would presumably be older making them in the more vulnerable cohort for infection, and would be unlikely to have current ‘working with children’ accreditation. Trainee teachers, one or two years out of school themselves, cannot be expected to leave their studies to fill in for absent staff, and who is going to supervise students when infected teachers are delivering lessons remotely? Does she think the class will sit there nicely on their own listening to a talking head on a tv screen?
Russell’s colleague at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Professor Sharon Goldfeld, said children have “carried the can for adults. We’ve kept them away from school and childcare. Now that COVID is in the community, they can no longer carry the can for adults. Schools are the epicentre for children’s health, wellbeing and learning.”
Yup. But where is the concern for the teachers who look after your children every day? Where is the regard for their expertise? You can’t just drag people off the street to replace them if they get sick.
These non-education experts talk about “keeping cohorts together” to minimise the spread. Have they forgotten that a high school teacher’s cohort is everybody who does that subject? 150 different kids a day? They talk about combining classes like it’s no problemo. Do they understand how hard it is to teach maths to 30 adolescents? Make it 60, make it 100….and carry on?
We all want our kids to be back at school, learning and playing and doing all the normal kid stuff. But these are not normal times and teachers are not easily replaceable babysitters.
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