‘Are we raising snowflakes?’
You’ve likely heard of the term “snowflake”. I’m not referring to the small crystals of frozen water that fall from the sky in winter, I’m talking about those who were told they were special, unique and destined for great things — no matter what. In the process, however, they often become less resilient, melting when faced with the often-harsh realities of life.
In all of the debate around whether to delay sending our kids to school, we have to ask the question: are we in danger of robbing our kids of their futures? Are we raising snowflakes? In light of our Covid responses, I would contend the answer is “yes”.
Parents are painfully aware of the fact, while also being mindful that there is little they can do to mitigate it.
One parent in Auckland said it had been an “absolute juggle” working from home while also trying to help their kids manage their online learning. Succeeding at filling these roles is basically mission impossible.
The students themselves know it. So do the teachers. In a recent Education Review Office (ERO) report, students preferred learning at school, rather than at home. Yet they felt less safe at school because of Covid. After the lockdowns, teachers and principals also noted heightened anxiety around health and safety.
The ERO report noted a bigger-than-expected drop in attendance after reopening, and then a second wave of lower attendance a few weeks later. The truth is that we still don’t know the extent of the impact on student learning.
However, with findings like increased anxiety levels amongst school children, and teachers needing to make up for lost learning time — especially in areas like writing — we have reason to be concerned.
The science shows that children are the least vulnerable to a Covid infection. Their Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) is 0.0023 percent up to the age of 10 years.
As one paediatrician put it recently: “They’re potentially more harmed by missing out on school and having school closures than they would be by direct infection or outbreaks.”
Another said: “Even having a single dose will offer our children pretty good protection.”
It’s a case of the cure likely being worse than the disease.
The cure for the cure? Let schools open on time. As Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said, closures were “the last thing we should do. We need to get the kids back to school and . . . into the school community”.
Government support needs to equip our schools with the resources required to open safely.
To get learning back on track, the Ministry of Education needs to be proactive in engaging with schools, allowing them to take the lead on what’s best for their students while offering guidance.
Take courage and be honest with kids. Help them to understand their own risks. Understand that public health isn’t only about Covid.
That’s how we can give our kids not only resilience, but their lives and futures back, too.
Maxim Institute is an Auckland-based, independent research and public policy think tank, working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand.