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Pontifical Academy for Life releases document on Covid and Education

The Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life releases a new document on the dire consequences Covid-19 has had on education, and calls for schools to reopen to children.

By Francesca Merlo

On Wednesday, the Pontifical Academy for Life presented a new Document entitled: "The Pandemic and the Challenge of Education" which has been prepared in collaboration with the Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the Covid-19 Vatican Commission. 

A parallel pandemic

The text begins by stating that the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the lives of children and adolescents requires a focus on what has been called a “parallel pandemic”, that is the psycho-social stress caused by the pandemic, resulting in distress and illnesses with different consequences according to age and social backgrounds.

The aim of the Document is to  treasure the experience of recent months and recognize the “positive resources” that emerged  during the pandemic, identifying some particularly critical issues "in order to face the immediate future with the hope that the younger generations deserve", the PAV explains in the introduction.

Children’s and adolescents' resources 

The first point highlighted in the text is that children and young people are showing a mature capacity to be sensitised to and involved in the understanding of the pandemic and its effects.  “Among the youngest sensitivity to questions and answers concerning pain, illness and treatment increases” and “this sensitivity represents a first and important step in the development of a moral conscience”, the document remarks.

Resilience

Another positive feature that has emerged during these tragic months is that of resilience, taht is  the capacity of the younger generations to resist in the face of negative events. Indeed, PAV remarks that “young people know how to resist”.

However, the text also stresses the importance of family and community support and guidance, because even though they are resilient, children and young people should not be left alone in the face traumatic events.

The document further remarks that elaborating what happened also provides an opportunity to develop their trust in science: “The younger generations, raised in a highly technological and scientifically explainable world, can be helped to recognize that science is a process of success and failure that brings us closer to the truth. At the same time, at a time when ideological denial of the value of scientific research emerges, the pandemic presents a significant opportunity to reaffirm the value and nobility of the human being and of the gift of his intellectual abilities”.

Four urgent challenges

The document goes on to point out the need for society to take responsibility for the younger generations, highlighting four areas which need particular attention.

Reopening schools  

TThe first area of concern is school closure. The document points out that, although the decision to close schools was justified by the scientific community to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, this measure should be considered in the future “only as the last resort."

Indeed, containment measures that have forced children to switch to remote learning have impoverished their intellectual development and deprived them of important relationships, even more so in the more disadvantaged and poorer social strata.

The PAV calls attention to five critical aspects. The first one concerns countries in the Southern part of the globe, where school closures have increased the rate of school drop-outs: “At least 10 million children in the world today will not return to school. Many of them become victims of social conditions that force them into child labour and exploitation”.

Secondly, “closings have limited access to education, accentuating the inequalities due to the ‘digital divide’”. Also, poorer children have been deprived of school lunches, while, in wealthier countries, school closures have encouraged unhealthy diets and lifestyles with reduced physical activity resulting in frequent weight gain and impacting on mental health.

Finally, school closures have increased addiction to the internet, video games or television (binge watching).

In the face of this dramatic situation, reopening schools is therefore a priority, the PAV emphasizes. “Mandatory school closings have made us realize how important it is to ‘go to school’. Young people today believe reopening is a goal to be achieved because they sense its educational and social value”.

Safeguarding family relationships

The document goes on to speak about safeguarding family relationships. While noting that the pandemic  has  offered parents the opportunity to share more time with their children and therefore to rediscover their “vocation” as educators, PAV also remarks the negative impact on families of long lockdowns, including domestic violence, behavioural disorders and increased parental stress. Hence the need for adequate social, cultural, urban, economic support for families.

Education to universal fraternity

The third point highlighted in the text is education toward universal fraternity. The PAV notes  that Covid-19  has offered a valuable opportunity for educators to open children’s minds and horizons, to teach them  “not to escape the prospects of globalisation, the achievements of science, the ecological challenge, the economic and social perspective with its inequalities, the role of social media and technology”.

“With the pandemic the whole world has entered every home.  It is up to the world of educators to translate all this and value it so that the new generations might open their eyes and become more aware of the world and of their responsibility as citizens and believers”, the document emphasizes.

Transmitting faith in the God of life

The fourth point is about the importance of transmitting Christian faith. Noting that the pandemic has disrupted Church educational activities, the document underlines the urgent need to “re-think” the pastoral care of the younger generations.

”The pandemic itself”, it says, “needs to be considered as an opportunity to deepen and focus on themes of great importance for faith education”, which was perhaps neglected  before the pandemic broke out. In this regard, the PAV once again stresses the central role played by the family .

Conclusion

In the  concluding remarks, the Pontifical Academy for Life insists on the urgent need to remove “the serious obstacles" that prevent a "healthy and positive” entry of children and adolescents into society and to create the conditions necessary for this to happen, the first of which is allowing children to go back to school.

22 December 2021, 13:00