The coming school year and parental concerns

By Jamie Etheridge

Summer may be in full swing in Kuwait but most parents are already talking about what to expect for the coming school year. Around the world, schools closed in February and March or shifted to online virtual learning to close out the year. When schools were shut here in late February and didn’t reopen, my kids eventually shifted to online learning and completed the year. My oldest daughter, who started sixth grade last fall, loved the experience of online/virtual learning.

She felt in control of her own learning, enjoyed the online assignments and was able to organize her schedule daily to finish homework and still have plenty of free time. Lucky for us, she had already experienced the separation of classes that happens in middle school and had a chance to learn how to manage multiple homework and class assignments before schools stopped.

My youngest, in third grade, did not like virtual learning at all. She ended up doing a lot of worksheets, having limited online time with peers and found it very difficult to learn via Zoom. She did her best and we managed to finish the year but it was a struggle. Now as my girls move toward seventh and fourth grades respectively, the question remains: what will happen this year?

Will schools be in person or virtual learning? Will they be a mix of both? And if schools open, will people feel ready and comfortable sending their kids to school? There is also the question of children and teachers that might be especially vulnerable, those who are immunocompromised or have other health issues. How do we protect them?

The global coronavirus pandemic is far from over. In fact, it seems we haven’t even passed through the first ‘wave’ of infections, neither in Kuwait nor globally. Will we be in a better place by the time school starts?

What if there is a second wave? Opinion from scientists seem divided. There is no guarantee there will be a second wave of infections in the fall. At the same time, there is no vaccination and unlikely to be one before the school year starts. There is also no herd immunity. Which means that as long as there are high numbers of cases in Kuwait, there is risk of exposure and infection. Thankfully, children seem to be much more resistant to the worst effects of the virus. But teachers, admin staff and all the other adults involved in schooling our children would be exposed.

So where does that leave us?
Maybe the government will decide virtual school only or maybe it will be mixed, with classes on campus and virtual learning available in rotation so that all children have an opportunity to learn in the classroom and online. At this stage, I have mostly questions and no answers. It is unclear what the government will decide and how schools will implement those decisions. It is unclear how high the infection rate will be in the fall.

Schooling is a hotly debated topic across the world. Some countries have reopened schools with in person learning including Japan, South Korea, Germany, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands and others. So far, only a few have experienced clusters of COVID cases and most have staggered school days to limit student contact to very small groups or included some blend of virtual learning.

School districts in California, Virginia and other US states have already announced plans for only virtual, online learning for the fall. While other states like Florida plan full in class learning. Closer to home, the UAE hasn’t yet announced a final plan but schools are readying for a mix of in person and virtual learning for the upcoming school year.

In other words, there is no consensus or agreement on one way to move forward. What we can all agree on is that children need school and, as parents, we all want our children to learn, to be with peers and to be safe at the same time. How this will be achieved this fall, however, remains a question. Whatever the answer, it is certain that we will all have to be flexible and ready to change course if the situation requires.

Etheridge@kuwaittimes.com