This article by Commissioner Bruce Adamson originally appeared in The National.
Two months ago, the United Nations warned of the grave physical, emotional and psychological effects on children of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside the loss of their formal education we are seeing an impact on children’s mental health and their development through the loss of opportunities for socialisation with friends and family and lost opportunities to engage in cultural life. Children experience time differently to adults and the missed birthday parties, graduations, concerts or school trips which are such a formative part of childhood weigh heavily on young minds.
Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis gives some welcome clarity around what life will look like in the coming months. Understandably much of the focus is on when and how schools will reopen, and how formal education will be delivered safely. The right to education is about the development a child’s unique personality, talents and abilities and goes beyond formal schooling to embrace the broad range of life experiences and learning processes. A rights-based education, built upon supportive relationships, with strong participation and peer-to-peer support from other children and young people is the best way to help develop children to their fullest potential.
Teachers, parents and carers have been doing amazing work to support children’s education over the last few months. But School isn’t just where children go to learn. It is also a place to socialise, eat, play, have fun. For some children schools are places of safety and where they access support. There is a long summer ahead and then a significant period before fully school-based learning will be possible and before the supports often provided by, or accessed through, schools will be available. The summer holidays have always been challenging for some families, with the loss of school-based supports such as breakfast clubs, school meals and afterschool clubs. The pressures this year will be exponentially worse given the extended time away from these vital facilities.
As we move into the next phases of our response, we need to stay focused on the health and economic impacts, but importantly we also need to address the social, educational, and mental health impacts of the pandemic on children. Not only do we need to ensure provision is in place to support families over the summer, particularly as parents return to work, we need to use this period to design supports that will last into the future and which take a much more holistic view of what encompasses an education.
Recent initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s commitment to an additional £30 million to support digital access for children is a very welcome step. Digital communication is playing an important role in terms of how children access not just education but also socialisation, which many children have been missing out on.
It is important that we recognise the sacrifices that children have made, but we also need to make children part of the decision making to ensure we understand the experience of the pandemic from their unique point of view.