Heard that sigh in the wind? That was the collective sound of the parents of 67,000 children breathing in relief as their children headed back to government schools across Bahrain.
Of all the cruel Trojan horse tricks that the pandemic played on us, I think this whole WFH and online schooling business was the worst – it gave us the feeling that we had gained from no-commute work styles and bonus prep time with the children who didn’t need hustling through morning routines to catch the school bus.
At its peak, more than 188 countries, encompassing around 91 per cent of enrolled learners worldwide, closed their schools to try to contain the spread of the virus.
What really happened was our teachers did more learning than the children as they unlearned old ways of imparting knowledge and learnt by trial and error how to adapt to online teaching.
Students kept them on their toes because they were always one step ahead of the teachers in finding loopholes to “check out” of the online classroom even when sitting in front of the laptop.
The isolation of online lessons has made the next generation unable to appreciate or develop the talent for flexibility and working with others as a team – something learnt in the playgrounds and corridors of the school.
Online schooling has also been a huge setback for gender equality.
While there has been a lot of noise about fathers finally stepping up to the plate regarding their parental duties, the fact is that once again, we are heaping disproportionate praise on miniscule advances – mothers are still taking on the “lioness’ share” of childcare and although the sheer scale of the additional burden for all parents has meant that Dad simply has to help out, in most cases, the fathers who did the most were men who had been furloughed or had lost their jobs (according to studies by the EU).
Indeed, the World Economic Forum has described coronavirus as the worst setback for gender equality in a decade.
Even in Bahrain, where legislation tries to pad out the inequalities and where house help and nannies are more common, women typically organise their working life around childcare to a greater extent than men, giving themselves restricted (and poorer) employment options.
Anecdotal and some statistical evidence is emerging to suggest that the share of working papers being published and submissions to journals by women has fallen since the beginning of the outbreak and that the share of new work on the impacts of the pandemic itself from women is particularly low – hardly surprising since it is hard for women to be as productive as men if they are juggling work with a higher burden of additional childcare.
Women have made up a disproportionate number of frontliners during the pandemic – yet, when it comes to job security, they are in the firing line more than men since they are over-represented in sectors that are worst affected by the crisis (retail, hospitality, care and domestic work), because these jobs cannot be done remotely.
Since the larger community schools are opting for a split system of part-online and part-classroom study in the coming days, in order to rationalise space and Covid-19 protocols without increasing the financial burden on parents, I think we are going to face the challenge of managing online education for some more time.
Are the fathers ready to do their bit this time around?