Coming Tuesday, the day after Labour Day, it will be chaos and madness at many schools throughout the country when they will open to Years 11-13 students and for students whose parents work in Education and who are the sole caregivers of their own children.
The required procedures, when and where they are clear, will pale and dwarf any routine emergency drill in comparison. All adults on the school premises will have to show their papers to the people in charge AKA managers before they can commence their duties, e.g. getting on with dusting off their desks and teaching.
Up-to-date registers will have to be kept of the vaccination status of all students at school. And spare a thought for the poor sods on Reception who have to answer the generic school phone number and field all the questions from worried parents – the Delta variant affects young people and children differently compared to the previous variants earlier in the pandemic.
This is a giant leap into the unknown. Given that we’re talking about schools, it’s clear that this will be far from an operation run with military precision. If you disagree with this statement then you obviously haven’t been in a NZ school – it will be bigger than a spontaneous free Destiny Teddy Bears’ Picnic in Auckland Domain.
People have many questions and concerns and there’s a lot of anxiety if not fear among students, their parents, and school staff. It is highly likely that many students will not show up at all on Tuesday or even in the following days or weeks – some will not come to school while in Level 3 – some have effectively dropped out altogether. This means that teachers may have to do in-class as well as on-line teaching and also upload things on-line in case of another eventuality, which will widen existing and could create new divisions in this sector.
Some school staff will be lost too, as some object to getting vaccinated and some object to the compulsive aspects. Those who are not yet fully vaccinated need to undergo a weekly Covid test after the initial one that is required of all – that’s a shed-load (i.e. a few hundreds of thousands) of tests and clearly intended as an overly cautious surveillance measure based on the current scale of the outbreak since 17 August. For example, teachers will have to go to a Testing Station or book in their test at the local medical centre or GP practice without exception and without any symptoms or other reasons why they might be a positive case that requires a test – in this situation it is important that the false positive and false negative rates of the PCR tests are as low as possible.
As in healthcare (including midwives and GPs), the education system in NZ can poorly if at all afford losing people. Whether this is justifiable collateral or sacrificial price to pay is a moot point in the absence of a robust genuine and constructive public debate and without any projections of the implications for the education workforce and its ability to deliver the NZ curriculum effectively and efficiently to all who need it for their future. It does create a sense of a touchy-feely stumble in the dark.
Much time and energy will have to be devoted to getting used to new way of doing things and to ironing out the many wrinkles. It will take some time before NZ education can and will reassume with some kind of normality. For example, what happens when someone in a school tests positive? Presumably, they must self-isolate for 14 days, at least. Obviously, there were will be the obligatory frenzy of testing everyone who might have come into contact with that person. Will a whole school be shut down, temporarily, e.g. for a deep-clean or for self-isolation? In the UK students have to stay home for 14 days on a regular basis because of positive cases popping up at schools all the time.
All these disruptions will lower the overall quality of education, but, as always, some schools, classes, and students will be affected worse than others. It does feel like each school is left to largely fend for itself – so much for an approach that fosters a team spirit of collegiality and helps build a cohesive support that includes proactive coaching and managing, which is obviously a bridge too far for the
control freaks bureaucrats in the MoE and MoH in Wellington who must be enjoying their top-down power grab founded on the ideology of central government and under the excuse of a crisis.
Never let a good crisis go to waste
– Winston Churchill –
Exams are to go ahead, it appears. So, in addition to testing the curriculum material they will be testing lockdown resilience and who coped better or worse with the situation. To be fair, exams have always been a mix of testing explicit intellectual-academic skill & prowess on the one hand and implicit and tacit personal circumstances on the other hand – inequity in a nutshell.
To be fair, some people will fare well when schools resume, some will be more than happy to socially reconnect with other people outside of their limited and restrictive bubbles that can be mentally more suffocating than a facemask.
We will soldier on in these muddy trenches and continue to defend and save lives of others, including our friends and family. When (!) this is over there will be long tail and fall-out of PTSD and similar psychological damage inflicted by the pain of this ongoing pandemic. But we can still count ourselves lucky that we have few real casualties so far although the current numbers and trends are ominous.
Hopefully, opening the schools is not going to make matters worse – we cannot rely solely on vaccination levels and it would be a grave mistake to think so, especially beyond the 6-month-mark. It is now well-documented that vaccine effectiveness drops over time (i.e. waning immunity), which some countries (e.g. notably Israel) try to counter by introducing booster shots. The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrived on 15 February this year and the first shots were given a few days later. A slow gradual vaccine roll-out may also lead to a slow gradual waning of immunity, which could be a silver lining for population immunity.
This ain’t over by a long shot.