Why keeping schools open is important

Wiener Zeitung

Dr. Gabriele Lang was invited to make a guest commentary in the Wiener Zeitung.

When there’s a fire alarm in school, teachers know exactly what to do and how to get their students out of danger. Now the fire is called Corona. However, there is no clear plan of action for schools, even though it is now twenty months since the outbreak of the pandemic in Austria. The fish always starts to stink from its head. Crises quickly flush systemic errors to the surface. The school system is like a big company. At the moment, we are experiencing a complete failure of management in Austria. The biggest mistake lies in unclear communication. The ministry, education directorates and directors cannot reach a consensus and delegate to parents and children. In between these parties are the teachers. Unclear communication leads to chaos and has a demotivating effect.

Should schools remain open? In crises, it is necessary to keep the big picture in mind. Our childrens’ education shapes the future. From a holistic point of view, everything points into the direction of open schools: Schools ensure a certain structure and stability as well as stimulation regardless of family opportunities and situations. Regular testing of each pupil minimizes the risk of undetected infections. Open schools ensure a separation of learning and free time and prevent multiple burden for parents.

From a psychological perspective, open schools are important for children for several reasons. Students have the contact with peers that is so important for their development and psychological well-being. Home-schooling, on the other hand, can lead to “isolation fatigue”, a gradual loss of motivation. Virtual interactions, for example via Zoom, are additionally stressful and often require special didactic approaches that those involved do not always observe or master.

Numerous studies show that stress, anxiety and depression in children have increased significantly since Corona. Increased stress in turn influences eating behaviour and media consumption. Frustration is then compensated with food, television or computer games. In addition, many children generally exercise less since the beginning of the pandemic, as recreational facilities are closed at times and gym classes are limited. In general, it can be observed that frustration tolerance decreases and conflicts become more frequent. The ability to plan decreases, but more flexibility is required, which leads to a feeling of insecurity.

What we need now is psychological relief at all levels. This also means open schools, offering the greatest possible normality. For this, we need clear decisions and objective communication from the decision-makers. However, the individual must not be released from their responsibility. Now we all have to do our part to pull the car out of the mud. And we can do that, because change always starts with the individual. We shouldn’t underestimate this power.

Dr. Gabriele Lang is a psychologist. As managing director of UP’N’CHANGE and Create Success Consulting, she is dedicated to social change and teamwork and offers digital tools to develop essential social skills. She lives and works as working mum in Vienna.

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