Karin Paulus: I want a promise we will not return to remote learning ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Karin Paulus.
Karin Paulus. Source: Viktor Burkivski

It has been just jarring to have to listen to unempathetic technocrats praising the rapid digital turn and endless flexibility provided by distance learning. I want an ironclad promise by fall that we will not switch to remote studies in our schools again, Karin Paulus writes.

Many high school students had come to the verge of disaster by summer. There were schools where three-quarters of students had to attend school in summer to catch up. They numbered fewer among younger students, around half of basic school students and even fewer elementary school students. It makes sense as younger students also spent more of their home study time with parents by their side.

Young people opting out of state examinations is another sign of how they feel. For example, 36.7 percent of students decided not to take the simple mathematics examination this year.

But considering the particularity of the situation, poor study results aren't the most important thing. It is more important to notice that they reflect fear, apathy, loneliness and lack of motivation among young people.

We cannot blame schools here – our dear teachers have practically stood on their heads to try and get through this difficult period successfully. No one is expelled in a hurry, with second and third chances given. Still, this spring and the first half of summer have been dark as there is no solution in sight and uncertainty is in store for autumn.

We do not know whether schools will remain open should the number of coronavirus cases start growing again. Still, it has been promised that if before, everyone was treated the same, the new approach would be more individual. And it was indeed harebrained to shut down both the tiny Ruhnu School with its eight students and the Tallinn Linnamäe Russian Lyceum the students of which number 1,407.

We need direct human contact

There is reluctance to talk about the depressing number of students having difficulties – the state has tried to maintain the air of heroism and schools are afraid of pressure from parents and education officials. Of course, teachers have done an admirable job, while it is absolutely clear now that Snapchat and Zoom virtual environments cannot in any way replace direct contact.

We miss live discussions, games, physical nearness of other people. We cannot just shed our nature and long to return to our pack, not unlike gorillas. Even in universities, we saw that what people want the most is simple direct human contact.

Looking at the current situation, we need to start offering support for cornered youths as quickly as possible. Should the coronavirus return to cancel school, practice, seeing your friends, wouldn't that render life somewhat meaningless?

Intimidation that was until recently still prevalent on buses, in shops and the media worked to deepen anxiety for the whole of society. These fears have not disappeared, looking if only at the painful reaction to the "hippie camp" in Antsla!

Suicidal moods are a taboo in Estonia, while we know that young people (especially young men but also the elderly) are quick to develop such thoughts in crisis situations. I suppose it would be rude to ask what's the use of surviving the coronavirus if the result is a desire to harm oneself.

The harsh measures that accompanied the coronavirus clearly resulted in depressive moods and perceived social ostracism. How to feel needed and loved when everything around you is either dangerous or pointless?

It was difficult to get an appointment with psychologists and therapists before, while the service they provide has now become nothing short of a luxury. We cannot see a sufficient effort to remedy the situation.

What we saw during the crisis, instead of professional efforts, was the state and the church moving closer to each other. The Ministry of Social Affairs hired a chief chaplain already back in January (should we be holding our breath for a chief rabbi or imam?), while March saw theological phone counseling for pastoral counselors, followed up in June by what was essentially a Christian crisis hotline. All the while, money for training knowledge-based specialists just cannot be found.

But a young person needs help now, not the next fiscal year. The state must be able to react quickly not only to the concerns of shopping malls, night clubs or alcohol producers, but also those who dare not speak up and cannot afford lobbyists.

Do we really need to add fuel to the fire of smart device addiction that is bordering on epidemic?

Leaving aside different digital skills of students and teachers and the fact there were those who took a shine to the greatly challenging remote study experiment they spent in their pajamas, there are a few other problems to mention.

Many decision-makers fail to understand that the onslaught of the digital school hurt, in addition to new adults, students whose "hero parents" (for example, cashiers, mask makers, orderlies) had to work despite of the pandemic, leaving their children without support at home.

How should a child whose mother spends the day at a supermarket check-out make it to e-classes on time or have a hot meal? We cannot afford any more injustice like that as a society! Or alternatively: do we really need to feed already epidemic smart device addiction? No, thank you!

It has been simply jarring to have to listen to unempathetic technocrats praising our rapid digital turn and endless flexibility that distance learning has offered us. "Let us have such school days for everyone who want them once a week! Now, we can finally travel any time!"

Heaven help us! Who will pay for the additional work of teachers? Moreover, who will take lightning fast and yet cheap broadband to less fortunate people living in the periphery? Or how to create any measure of coherence in the already fragile situation?

I await an ironclad promise by fall – we will not be switching to remote learning again and digital studies are not the new normality.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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