Kids, parents going crazy at home

Editorial | Mary Ma 19 Mar 2020

It's dreadful news that children won't be able to return to schools by April 20 when the city-wide class suspension is supposed to end.

What a nightmare!

Parents could only scream "Help!" when they heard Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and then Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung dropping the hint that children in lower classes will have to stay home for a much longer period because, even if classes resume as planned, it will be in phases starting with older students.

Is there really nothing the education chief can do about the situation to make it less stressful for both parents and children?

Nothing is impossible if Yeung is prepared to be a little more creative than he has been so far.

There have been a number of recent opinion surveys in relation to the suspension of classes, but we don't need to refer to them to know that stress has been on the rise in families.

School closures are particularly odious for Hong Kong, thanks to months of anti-government protests and now the coronavirus pandemic.

Children are active and sociable creatures, and prolonged absence from schools is already taking a toll on their mental and physical health.

Adults are suffering similarly, struggling to split time to cope with various needs between families and jobs.

Society for Community Organization worker Sze Lai-shan says the non-government organization has been dealing with a rising number of cases in which families are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the back-breaking stress if class suspension is to continue longer - or even indefinitely.

Children are getting tempestuous, restless and even aggressive because they cannot meet and speak to their buddies to express their emotions - a situation even parents lucky enough to be allowed to work from home are finding exhausting to handle.

But there is a silver lining.

If parents previously had been unable to spend enough time with their children to communicate with them properly, some are now in a position to do so.

This observation is supported by the findings of a Hong Kong Institute of Family Education poll that showed 70 percent of parents having a closer relationship with their children than before.

The problem is that the tipping point isn't far away - if, that is, it has not already been reached.

Lam and Yeung have to aim beyond just having children being taught online at home.

As policymakers concentrate on the need to contain the highly infectious disease, they cannot simply resign to the absolute need to stop the spread without trying to come up with innovative means to bridge the gap.

Sze's proposal to allow children to return to school at least one day a week should be given serious consideration. At least, then, children would be able to see their classmates and express their emotions to each other.

There can be many ways to conduct these gatherings - for example, in small groups or via activities like picnics as Sze has suggested.

The bottom line is that the status quo is no longer the way forward.

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