With back-to-school just days away, and little clarity as to what that will look like, many Canadian parents are still grappling with the decision whether to send their children to school or opt for online education. For some multi-generational families, it’s an uneasy choice between the educational needs of the children and concern for the health of the grandparents.
As school boards continue to deal with changing requirements from the provincial government, many parents feel left in the lurch. Meanwhile, as of September 2, Ontario reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for seven straight days.
The parental dilemma
Anushya Ashok lives in Brampton with her husband and two children, Ghangaa, aged four, and Haasinie, aged nine. Ashok also has her parents staying with her during most of the year. Her father suffers from wheezing and is prone to contracting pneumonia.
“You open the window, let the cold air in, and my dad ends up with wheezing problems. How can we even think about exposing him to COVID-19?”
Ashok has opted for online schooling for both her children, saying that Ghangaa doesn’t particularly miss school, but Haasinie does. “She has been away from school since mid-March and has been longing to get back to school. But what option does she have?” Ashok asks.
Ghangaa had started a Montessori program three months before the March break, after being on the waiting list for eight months. If Ashok doesn’t send her back when schools reopen in September, the girl will be back on the waiting list, as the Montessori school doesn’t have an online program.
“My parents’ health is of priority, so I have decided not to send Ghangaa for at least four weeks,” Ashok explains. She plans to enroll Ghangaa in a public school and opt for their online education, with plans to move her back to Montessori when the pandemic dies down.
Ashok says she has many questions and not many answers. She suggests that the schools and school boards teach the children about the importance of masks, sanitizing, and maintaining social distancing.
“They should make videos and share them with the children now, a few days before schools reopen,” she says. “Let them illustrate how the virus spreads and how to properly wear masks. The videos should also educate children on how other members of the family, say grandparents, can get affected.”
Endorsing a wait-and-see policy, Ashok plans to wait for updates before sending Haasinie to school.
“Well, she [Hassinie] has half-heartedly agreed. We explained our situation—of elderly grandparents living with us. I also tell her that if she wants to go to school later, she has to include immunity-boosting foods in her diet. With less activity and more screen time, it’s important to keep them [the children] healthy,” says Ashok.
The whole family has been avoiding crowded parks, where “masks are not required … and there is no social distancing in play areas and splash pads.” Instead, the four have been biking and trekking to stay active.
Mothers want to take a break
Ashok says her own work schedule has changed with children home during the day. She finds it difficult to keep her craft-and-decor home business running. She also works part-time at Mcdonald’s but has had to take up the night shift in order to take care of family. With the pandemic still at large, she wonders when things will get back to normal for her.
Nour Jazzar from Mississauga shares this sentiment. “Everybody wants their children to go to school. Mothers want to take a break, for sure.”
Jazzar worked with Turkish Airlines before the pandemic struck. Now she is home, waiting to be called back in. All Jazzar wants for her children, Marwan Khoudeir, 16, and Mira Khoudeir, 15, is to go to school. “I am worried about the virus, but I tell them how to take precautions,” she says.
Stressing the importance of in-person learning, Jazzar adds, “I would like them to go to school, meet the teachers and learn in a face-to-face learning environment.”
Getting teenagers off their phones
Jazzar says she has clear reasons to opt for in-school education for her children.
“They are on devices most of the time. Also, my daughter misses her school, teachers and friends and the public library. My son misses his piano classes in school.”
She says that having older children makes it easy for her to choose in-school education. “It’s difficult for smaller children to attend school during the pandemic. It’s difficult for five- to six-year-olds to even put on a mask. How will they understand everything?”
Jazzar’s husband, Shaher Khoudeir, agrees with her about choosing in-school education for their children.
“He wants the children to go to bed early,” she says. “Khoudeir is all for them to have a proper schedule. They sleep late and wake up late and spend a lot of time on devices. It’s not good for young minds.”
September 2020 is going to be unlike any other, but it may offer some comfort to know that the government has promised additional funding to boost the health and safety of the students.
Photos provided by Anushya Ashok and Nour Jazzar
Minu Mathew is a writer and communication consultant who has worked closely with brands like Philips, 3M and Microsoft. She has a book of poems titled ‘In the Garden of Rain’ published on Amazon. Minu has lived in India, Sweden, US and UK. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children.