Covid-19 has caused schools closures in 190 countries around the World. 1.5 billion children and young people, representing 90% of the world’s student population, remained at home. There is no doubt that these closures were necessary and contributed greatly to containing the contagion and defeating the first – and hopefully the only – wave of the epidemic. However, the social cost was very high, for the pupils and their families. And also the economic cost, apparently zero (the students do not produce Gross Domestic Product), will have to be measured in the medium – long term, in terms of learning gaps and therefore of capability gaps, especially for the students of the terminal classes and the university.
There are some lessons to be drawn from this new experience. The first one concerns the extraordinary importance of the school for all contemporary societies. As always, we realize how important is something we take for granted, such as air or water, only when we miss it. And as UNESCO stated, the pandemic is also a “serious educational crisis”; school closures have in fact represented “an unprecedented risk for the education, protection and well-being of children. Schools are not just places of learning: they provide social protection, nutrition, health and emotional support“.
The second lesson concerns distance learning; it was essential to adopt it in order not to reset the teaching activity to zero, but it also revealed all its limits. From the pedagogical and didactic point of view, it is clear that E-education can integrate and strengthen, but cannot completely replace the school in presence, which is also made of human relations, sharing of physical spaces, workshops that cannot only be simulated by computer. And from the point of view of social equity, because not all pupils have been able to benefit equally, due to lack of devices, connections, and their teachers’ digital skills.
Third: school policies, and in particular school building and the number of pupils per learning group (which is a direct consequence of the volume of public investment in education). After the summer, schools will be able to re-open safely in those countries that have adequate spaces and a limited number of pupils per class. In countries, such as Italy, which in the last two decades the States have invested very little in school building and have unfortunately increased the number of pupils per class (up to the absurd 30 students per teacher: the so-called “chicken coop classes”) the reopening will be much more complicated and risky. Health risk will be added to the pedagogical, structural and permanent damage.
We started our list of post-Covid words by talking about “competence”. Competence necessary to fight the coronavirus, but also to fight that “infodemia” of which the President of the European Parliament, Davide Sassoli, recently spoke: the fake news epidemic with which Russian and Chinese political circles have tried to discredit the institutions of democratic countries.
Now our list of keywords ends with this: school, the place of competence building. School for all and excellent school, which means small classes, competent and motivated teachers, adequate space and equipment. And so children and young people who grow up peacefully, to learn how to change the world and make it a more decent place than it is now.