Like China, let us invest all we have and get our children moving. They are usually the least affected by COVID-19. Almost no child has died from it worldwide. Also, there is a need to consider children who are students of poor, neglected public schools. We cannot just secure our own in online schools, feeling ghetto-fabulous like some ghetto snob, while majority of our children in Nigeria lose months and years.
Are we looking into the minds of our children at this moment? Are we assessing the impact that this odd season is having on them? Do we think they don’t have much going through their minds at this moment and that all we need to do is lock them up, shield them, pamper them? I think it is important that we give the mental and physical health of our children a lot more thought at this time. Just as we have never lived in such a time, they too haven’t. If the times are odd for us, perhaps it is even more bizarre for them. In the beginning of this COVID-19 crisis, when fear was freely used to drive the awareness, many children cuddled up to their parents and asked in shaky voices, if they were going to see the coming Christmas. Many wondered if this was the end of everyone. We took their innocence away. Now, it is not looking like half of the world will die. What have we done to our children? It is the dishonesty with which COVID-19 made it into our consciousness that made me take the route of investigating everything that comes out of the global media stables, and also seeking alternative opinions. I am blessed by that, and my heart is in a good place. Others may choose to fear and cower, but I have enough information from everywhere, to be bold and to know that ulterior motives and frauds intersperse good information on COVID-19.
Today, my concern is that the idea of online classes for our children is deficient in many ways. No system is perfect, agreed. The normal schooling system of gathering children in spaces defined by brick and mortar has its own downsides but I wager that that is better for our children for reasons stated below. Is home schooling and online education the new normal for Nigeria? Now, many middle class people seem to be saying online class is just the same as children leaving home to go to school, if not better. Others anchor their thinking on the ‘this is the new normal’ rhetoric, which is actually a statement of capitulation to what they see in the media or the enormity of changes we have seen in recent times, rather than active inquiry into why this should be the new normal. Yes, many have given up way too early. Is this ‘new normal’ really optimal for all? Did we get to chip in ideas, while the ‘new normal’ was being worked out? Or are we mere victims who should accept the ‘new normal’ however it comes and just conform to it? Some are not only conforming, they are actively promoting the idea even when it is unclear what it holds for them in the near future. Some, we hear, are being paid to promote the ‘new normal’. Some do it just to belong. Some are confused. Some always align with whoever they think will win a game. Some just don’t care, as they cannot see beyond planning for themselves. Some cannot even think through what is best for their children.
I think we should invest everything and get our children back into school urgently because school education is far better than home, online education for several reasons:
1. The cross-pollination of ideas and characters. Schools are the first places children go to get an idea of what life is about, not the internet. This convention, in my view, should be maintained.
2. The arms-length interaction of teachers with children, which brings about discipline that they may not get at home. A fair number of parents pamper their children in a way that may not allow for their rounded growth, if they learn fully from home.
3. The offering of a wider smorgasbord of knowledge (as against being supervised by only their parents). Today, parents (usually mums) are saddled with training their child on every subject. Is every mum a polyglot? Not even the combination of both parents can match the diversity offered by teachers in a school.
4. Sports. Very few homes have enough space for the kind of physical exertion that children need to discover themselves and prevent their muscles from atrophy, and when they do, the space is often underutilised because the children may not come under the positive peer pressure to try harder.
5. Other skills, like music, home economics, experimental science, and even challenging themselves on different capabilities (including sports) are not optimised when they learn from home.
6. Practicals – like laboratory ones – will lack, even though they may understand the theory well enough. We should know that we have enough theoretically sound graduates already.
7. The need for children to see just how diverse the world is by meeting friends and teachers from different homes and cultures – the normal, hypernormal, subnormal, crazy etc., and then make their choices about their own lives, is simply priceless.
8. The need for children to go out of the house, to run around, to sweat a little, to work their muscles, is important. Those who walk to school like we did in our time, for example, are fitter.
9. Understanding relationships and building networks which will be priceless in the future. God forbids that we arrive soon at a time when our children no long have colleagues and friends, apart from virtual ones! The joy of life is all about having people around us to walk with.
10. Agricultural science training and practicals, for schools which are mindful enough to do this. Most of these expensive ‘ajebutter’ schools don’t care and it is sad. This is one thing that must be learnt in school. Add skills like tailoring, carpentry, etc.
I write this to buttress the argument on the new normal or lack of it. I am not capitulating to this being the new normal no matter who is pushing it to be so. I believe like Boris Johnson said at that UN meeting in September 2019, that we all should shout loud enough and get our VALUES to be included as part of the ‘new normal’, otherwise it cannot be a new normal but an imposition of an Orwellian reality. Having value for your life, heritage and culture means you shouldn’t just roll-over for some ‘new normal’ without a question. If a lonely, anti-people, anti-septic, paranoid life suits you, does it suit your children too? Does it suit their age? Are we raising them to retain at least some of our African-ness (interactions, extended family system and so on)? Are we going to end up training our children to have no people skills, no emotional intelligence, no sporting or music skills, just so long as their theoretical IQ can match that of Albert Einstein? Is that what it is all about? Whose idea is this we are running anyway?
Who believes that the new world should be about contactless-ness and online everything? Who says machines and electronics and robots must start to run our lives going forward? Of course, we are all now germophobes and have been worked to believe touching anyone will kill us. God help us. We need our lives back. Our children miss their friends. They want go back to school. We the parents too, cannot wait for them to continue to be children, to develop in a way that blends our influence with the influence of their teachers, and friends, so that they can achieve a lot more than we did.
If working from home is OK for us as adults, it is certainly suboptimal for our children. We must act more in their interests. Even at home, they have too much downtime, stay on phones and the internet for longer periods and get exposed to all sorts (including x-rated programmes on DSTV – we cannot block all the channels and many times we just give up anyway. Even some of the cartoon series now have all sorts on them that we don’t know – expletives, porn, sexual innuendoes, adult themes, same sex and trans things). Have we now released our children to the modern world superhighway; unguarded and unguided?
We want to raise human beings – warts and all – not machines. Online schools are better at much higher grades, e.g. university. But even at that, we want our children out with friends! Prolonged stay at home could turn many into anti-socials. Like China, let us invest all we have and get our children moving. They are usually the least affected by COVID-19. Almost no child has died from it worldwide. Also, there is a need to consider children who are students of poor, neglected public schools. We cannot just secure our own in online schools, feeling ghetto-fabulous like some ghetto snob, while majority of our children in Nigeria lose months and years. No way! Our human capital is our most important capital. Shi ke nan!