Karen & Isaac – What have we learnt?
The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) is launching an exciting new campaign on the lessons learnt from the pandemic in relation to the disability sector. Called ‘X’Tgħallimna mill-Pandemija?’, the campaign gleans the findings and recommendations from a number of reports commissioned by CRPD during or about the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports point out not only how persons with disability were affected by the pandemic itself but perhaps more so by the social and economic impact deriving from restrictive measures put in place to control its spread.
Told through the stories of seven persons with disability, the campaign aims to show that behind every public policy and every public measure, there are persons whose lives can be affected immeasurably, and how persons with a disability cannot be excluded or forgotten, when public decisions are taken.
Karen and Isaac
FINDING: Data analysis shows that students with disability and those in their early years of compulsory education were the most disadvantaged in the access of education during this pandemic.
RECOMMENDATION: The creation of a new national strategy to inclusive education that embraces the concept of UDL, and which caters for the different realities brought about by COVID-19 and beyond.
You can read the following research reports below:
- Access to Formal Education by Persons with Disability During The Covid-19 Pandemic – Research Report
- The Impact of Covid-19 on Persons with Disability – Research Report
In April 2020, students were shut out of their schools to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many were not prepared for the transition to online teaching and learning methods, and I found myself trying to home school my son Isaac, who required many adaptations to the resources posted online by the teacher. His age and disability meant that he could not simply use the resources provided and learn independently. I felt the responsibility for his education falling entirely on me as I had to decide what to teach him, what resources to use and how, and stay next to him to support him with writing and focusing.
I guess he is lucky that I am a teacher by profession, but I am very much aware that not all parents of children with a disability had the time, resources, or support they needed in this process. As the pandemic persisted, it became clear that the education of many children, especially those who were still in primary schooling, was heavily disrupted. Despite this, when schools reopened for in-person teaching by the following academic year, children moved on to the next grade without consideration of what had been lost or never achieved in the first place.
The pandemic did not affect all children equally in the following academic year. Children with disabilities have received the short end of the straw. Some could not receive online learning due to its unsuitableness with their condition during temporary closures and others, like my son, could only follow online due to their vulnerability. Also, some were not provided with any alternative when they could not attend either due to their condition or the absence of their LSE, creating huge gaps in their learning. Since Isaac could not return physically to school due to his medical condition, he followed the curriculum mainly with the help of one-to-one online sessions with his LSE, resources posted online and support from home.
Despite following online, Isaac has managed to somewhat keep abreast with the curriculum. This does not compare to being present in the classroom. Following the curriculum by remaining focused during online learning was no easy feat for a young person with attention difficulties. Some subjects like maths are also very challenging to do through a computer screen. This meant that it took a much longer time to understand the content and gain certain important skills. Yet, primary schooling was occurring at the same pace as in any other year, so students could sit for annual exams as if this was a typical year. Also, education is not only about learning content but also about learning from others and learning to be with others. Social interaction is important for all children’s development, and even more so for children with disabilities. School, in and of itself, is a socialising opportunity, which is what children with disabilities like autism need. This isolation for Isaac has thus meant that he could not learn with and from his peers, whilst the social relationships and connections he had formed in previous years were mostly lost.
The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines brings hope of an eventual return to school for the next academic year for my son. This massive disruption to the education of children with disabling medical conditions has highlighted the need to mitigate inequalities arising from a rigid education system. The goal should not merely be the return to on-site schooling of all students. It must also be ensured that children who could not learn at the same pace as their peers during the pandemic because they were following online or because adequate online teaching was not or could not be provided are supported to catch up on what they missed. For children with disabilities, it is also essential that the persistent exclusion from a quality education with their peers that was present even before the crisis is addressed. All children have a right to quality education, and they all want to learn when given the right opportunities and tools. Children with disabilities should be able to access quality, inclusive education in the communities where they live. Resources and flexibility in teaching and learning ensure that all children have the accommodations and support measures needed to maximise their academic and social development. Flexibility and adaptability should also reflect the changing needs of societies and communities and ensure quick response to the changing needs of students. To ensure inclusion, it is not only access to education that is required, but the focus should really be on good quality.