Forgotten generation

Image thanks to UNICEF

I read with interest and dismay in The Big Issue that just four in ten pupils received full-time schooling during the first COVID lockdown and a quarter received no teaching at all. Private school pupils were twice as likely to benefit from a full education than those in the state sector. 83% of pupils were in school in November, which is way down on normal attendance levels.

Yes, there was and still is a pandemic. Normal life had gone out of the window and it was inevitable that the school system, along with every other thing we hold dear would suffer. 

As I write this, the schools are still off, at least for most students. I feel desperately sorry for those parents trying to juggle homeschooling and a job. The pressure to achieve a degree of success must be unbearable and the sense of letting your children down palpable. As my sister once said, ‘motherhood is one long guilt trip.’ I guess many fathers are feeling the same way.

My questions though are: What are we going to do to recover the situation? How are we going to help the people who have missed out to catch up? How are we going to ensure that those with means don’t end up with better qualifications and chances than those who are in the state system?

Unfortunately I think the answers will be that we won’t. The issues are too complicated and our thoughts are still too focused on the virus to make a national resolution probable if not possible. The clock is against us and every day that goes past exacerbates the problem. It is like compound interest but in reverse. Time is compounding the problem.

I don’t like to think about a problem without thinking about a possible solution and so here it goes. The government should work with employers to create a way that allows employed people time off to go back to the learning environment. Tax breaks or direct incentives should be paid to encourage people to go back and complete their education. This would work in the same way that apprenticeships do, with 20% of their working time in the classroom. For apprenticeships this needs to be in addition.

Yes, this would put a strain on businesses and a strain on the learning system. It will also cause a short term drop in productivity yet without doing something a longer term drop in productivity and performance is likely as the forgotten generation works through the economy.

Three to five years should do it.

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