Lockdown France – Schools out!

On the 12th March 2020, President Emmanuelle Macron announced to the nation that from the end of the following day (Friday 13th March), schools in France would be closed to help reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.

This news was met with a mixture of joy for many of the children and either relief or horror from the parents.  Closing an entire nation’s schools for an undisclosed period of time is a drastic measure, but it’s difficult to see what else could be done with the new virus spreading globally at an alarming rate.

In our household, the youngest (aged 12 and 14) were pleased initially for school to be closed.  The middle son, in his last year of Lycee and due to take his baccalaureate, was a little more concerned about what this meant for him.

Adapting to School from home

In the first week or so after lockdown, there was a flurry of activity.  Facebook groups were popping up with worried Mums fretting about how to get their children working eight hours a day and what to do.  I looked on with some amazement…

For a start, there is absolutely no need for the children to spend all day on school work. A couple of hours (in maybe two sessions) should be sufficient to keep on top of things.  Secondly, we are at the very start of a serious health situation.  No one in our lifetime has seen or lived through anything like this before.  We are all feeling uneasy about the future and our children are not immune to these feelings too.  Although some may not express it, its a very unsettling time for all.  A few months break from school is not going to have a catastrophic effect on our children’s education.  Education comes in many forms and the experiences of life and the children’s mental wellbeing are just as important.  I thought this clip sent to me by a friend was quite apt:

Schooling from home has been a mixed bag really.  Some teachers seem to be adapting well, other are not.  In the first few weeks many of the online classes were chaotic, some crashed, others were totally inaccessible.  Nearly two months on and the classes for our older son in Lycee seem to be quite organised whereas our youngest son seems to have hardly any at all (at least that’s what he tells us). Our twelve year old daughter in 5ieme seems to have the most chaotic classes as all the teachers are using different platforms and announcing the work in different ways. It’s very confusing to know what is meant to be done and when.

What about exams?

Our two youngest sons are in the last year of their respective schools.  Youngest son was about to do his Brevet (GSCE equivalents) and middle son (who celebrated his 18th birthday in lockdown at the beginning of April) was about to do his Baccalaureate.  Just before the Easter break it was announced that there will be no exams for the Brevet and Bac this year. They will be assessed on previous work and attendance over the next month or so. Youngest was over the moon, 18 year old was not so happy.  Although his marks were OK in the first two terms he was counting on improving his mark by revising hard and doing well in the exams for the Bac.  Now this is no longer possible.

When are they going back to school?

On Easter Monday, President Macron addressed the nation for the 4th time during the crisis and announced that the lockdown would start to be lifted from 11th May and children would start to go back to school.  The following week it was confirmed that return to school will be spread over three weeks, starting with Maternelle up to CM2, followed by 6ieme & 5iemes (11 & 12 year olds), and no news of when the older children will go back. Classes will be organised to a max of 15 students for older kids and for Maternelle, groups of ten. There is clearly a lot to work out still and it is optional, those staying at home will continue with home schooling. 

We have made the decision not to send our three back before September. It seems much too soon when we are no closer to a cure or a vaccine. It’s reported that there’s no chance of any protection from herd immunity either. Scientists predict that less the 6% of the population have immunity in France so far and where we live, it’s likely to be lower than that. Besides, all the time we have their older brother staying with us, who is in a high risk category, we are not risking bringing the virus into the house. 

Is it too soon?

It’s difficult I know.  Lots of people are not only concerned about their children’s education, but are worried about jobs.  If they are home with their children, they can’t earn.  I would imagine that is why they have decided to provide school for the children who are too young to stay home alone. I doubt the government can afford to continue to subsidise those not able to work, either.  It’s also reported that many children are suffering from the psychological effects of being isolated from their friends.  These are some of the arguments for going back to school sooner in a social distantanced, controlled fashion. 

I’m not so sure.  Is going back to an environment where they have to wear masks, wash their hands every hour and keep away from their friends really going to be better for their mental health?  Surely this will be even more stressful for them, facing the realities of the virus on a daily basis.  At home at least they are safe, can relax and chat to their friends on their phones and tablets without masks etc.  Perhaps it would be more sensible for schools not to return fully until September. That would give more time for medical treatment to have advanced and for schools to prepare more for social distancing methods. 

Life is going to be very different for some time to come as we know it is likely to be at least 12 -18 months before a safe vaccine ‘may’ be available.  Afterall, they will only have about six weeks of school and then they will break for the school holiday from July anyway. Is it really worth risking sending them back to school so soon?

What do you think?

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