Will closing schools affect children?

I was alerted to an insightful article written by Ron Crawford of the Productivity Commission in New Zealand.  Here is a summary of the contents:

As a social worker, Ron writes that the extended time spent at home might not be good for all children. This is especially true for those living in households where there is limited material and educational resources on hand, little motivation to encourage learning or few opportunities for uninterrupted study.

For a proportion of children, the risks of mental and physical harm have increased. Lockdown gave at-risk children few or no opportunities to escape from the pressures of a damaging home environment. Schools typically provide their only haven – with caring teachers on hand to monitor their wellbeing.

Are there harms to a wider group of children from school closures? While there is mixed evidence, the answer on balance seems to be yes.  There are grounds to believe that time lost during schools closing can be made up through support for learning at home and ‘catch-up’ once schools open again. But not all learners will fare well.  In the United States, studies show that typically learners’ skills and knowledge fall over the long, three month’s summer break and the losses are worse for children from poorer families.  In New Zealand, missing days at school is unsurprisingly associated with lower achievement. 

The effects of school closures on children’s wellbeing was one of the things that the New Zealand Government looked at closely in deciding that schools would open fully as soon as possible.

Also of importance is the ability of people to earn an income, which many mothers cannot do when forced to stay at home to care for and try to school their children. Being able to earn is pretty important for kids’ wellbeing too.

So, to summarise his main points:

  • School closures heighten the risk of mental and physical harm to possibly the most vulnerable children
  • Closures (even of relatively short duration) increases the risk of educational failure for a wider group of children in less well-off communities
  • Many families are well-placed with the help of schools to support their children to keep learning during closures
  • While schools’ main role is to promote learning they also benefit families by freeing parents to work. This is an important benefit of reopening schools.

Many children in South Africa may be struggling in this time of extended school shutdown. Learning difficulties may be going unrecognized and with no support to correct the causes of learning challenges, children will fall even further behind.  If you suspect your child is avoiding learning while at home (or at school) or struggling to keep up with the prescribed work, don’t delay in seeking help to address the possible reasons – at least the shutdown of schools gives you and your child time to work on overturning “I can’t” to “I can”, and “I won’t” to “I will”.



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