Children Drinking Juice Box

Manchester Schools To Perform Study On Children’s Wellbeing Post-Pandemic 

A multitude of school districts in Manchester are participating in a study that’s looking into the wellbeing of children and their emotional responses to reentering the world as the pandemic reaches its eventual end. Two-thirds of parents believe that mental health should be prioritized over academic attainment in the coming school year. 

The Greater Manchester Young People’s Wellbeing Program will be running the study that will be gathering data from tens of thousands of young students across 250 secondary schools in the city of Manchester. This is the first study of its kind in the UK, and it will begin collecting data this fall. Initially, the program will attempt to learn young people’s feelings and concerns over returning to school, as well as their physical activity. 

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Research is also being conducted for the University of Manchester in association with the Anna Freud Center, the Youth Sports Trust, and the Greater Manchester combined authority. This major collaborative effort shows that Manchester authorities and educators are greatly concerned that students won’t be able to learn as successfully due to the amount of adjustments they’ve had to make within the past year. 

David Gregson is a philanthropist who first brought up the idea of performing this study. Gregson argues that “the UK has neglected the wellbeing and physical health of children in favor of academic attainment, to the detriment of their actual development.” 

The Youth Sports Trust also recently performed a survey that suggested parents agree with Gregson’s argument. The survey found that “65% of parents believed wellbeing was a key factor in choosing a child’s secondary school, while only 48% said the same of exam results. Meanwhile, 70% of parents with children between the ages of 11 and 16 said their children’s wellbeing had suffered during the pandemic.”

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“I first took this idea to Greater Manchester in 2019 and all Covid has done, as the tide has gone out, is expose the pebbles we knew existed. For me, our education system has become too focused on attainment. A necessary but insufficient assessment,” Gregson said. 

“We’ve got ourselves into the position where we think that attainment is the be-all and end-all and I don’t agree with that. I want to change that dialogue and I want to improve the wellbeing of young people in Greater Manchester to prove that point.”

Gregson claims that all the data collected in this program will be shared with local authorities and government leaders so that they can recognize, and hopefully change, areas of need within the education system. 

“My 10-year plan is to add a second leg to the assessment of young people in Britain that we don’t just think of them as people who get GCSE results,” Gregson said. 

“That we think about another equally important part of their makeup, which is their wellbeing, their sense of self-esteem, their sense of optimism. We’ll need all of that. We needed it pre-Covid and we’ll certainly need it after Covid.”


Teacher Walkouts Continue Amid Education Crisis

It’s been nearly two weeks since about 300,000 Chicago students have been to class. Even if they showed up, their 25,000 teachers wouldn’t be there. They’ve been on strike since 17 October, demanding pay raises, resource improvements, school staffing increases and even solutions to the city’s pricey housing.

Weeks of negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city’s school system – the third-largest in the US – have been unsuccessful. But Chicago is just the latest in a wave of teachers’ strikes that has swept through many US cities.

Last year saw the most US workers on strike in a generation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 20 major work stoppages in 2018, involving 485,000 workers – the most since 1986. In a big shift, the most-represented industry was teaching.

Significant state-wide work stoppages in education occurred in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado and North Carolina. In January 2019, teachers in Los Angeles – the nation’s second-largest school district – went on strike for six days. Smaller strikes have taken place nationwide as well.

The strikes are about better working conditions for school staff and better learning conditions for students, according to Eric Blanc, a sociologist at New York University and author of Red State Revolt, a book about the teachers’ strike wave.

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Specific demands may differ, but across the country teachers claim to face many of the same challenges – large class sizes, teacher shortages, low pay and a lack of proper resources. In Chicago, teachers are calling for things like raising teacher salaries, reducing class sizes and adjusting school schedules to add morning preparation time for teachers.

Strikes in other states involved similar issues, with some pointing towards a lack of funding as the root of the problem. During the financial crisis of 2008, most states cut school funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And while school funding has gradually improved since 2015, most states have not yet recovered to pre-recession levels.

Dr Ileen Devault, labour historian at Cornell University, said the problems started earlier than that, pointing to decades of US tax policy. “All of the efforts in the US to cut back on taxes – which means cutbacks on public funding – has meant that schools have gotten less and less funded,” she said, adding teachers have finally reached a breaking point.

Dr Devault also said the strikes are about a lot more than salaries, with teachers demanding a variety of changes needed for schools to run effectively.

In early 2018, 35,000 teachers in West Virginia went on strike state-wide for almost two weeks, resulting in a 5% pay raise. Shortly after, 20,000 teachers across the state of Arizona won a 20% salary raise by 2020 after a five-day strike. And in early 2019, 30,000 teachers in Los Angeles went on strike for six days, resulting in a 6% salary raise, smaller class sizes and an increase in support staff.

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There have been significant wins in other cities as well. Dr Devault called the strikes “amazingly successful”. She believes the reason for this is that teachers have communicated to the public that they’re not just looking out for their own salaries, but for everyone, including students and support staff like bus drivers and nurses.

The spike in strikes might also be a contributing factor to their success. It’s given legitimacy and added power to teachers, allowing for them to make more transformative demands. “There’s a national teachers’ movement now,” Mr Blanc said. “Strikes as a whole are more successful because they’re feeding off one another.”

The wave may have been sparked in the same city that it’s playing out in now. The Chicago teachers’ strike back in 2012 sowed the seeds of protest for teachers across the US, according to Mr Blanc. “Organizers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, very consciously looked at that 2012 strike,” he said. “They studied the experience of Chicago.”

The strike in 2012 – which included pay raises and blocking a programme that would’ve placed increased emphasis on student test scores – was successful, but much less ambitious than what’s being demanded now.

As a comparison, while the recent wave of US strikes has not been matched in the UK, teachers in both countries share many of the same concerns, including pay, class sizes and school staffing.

Earlier this year, the Department for Education announced a 2.75% increase in teachers’ pay. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union – one of the UK’s biggest teaching unions – called the salary increase “fundamentally necessary” to encourage young graduates to pursue teaching and address the teacher shortage facing the country.

Another concern weighing heavily on UK teachers is the workload. A 2018 survey by the National Education Union found that 80% of teachers are considering leaving the profession due to the heavy workload, including long hours.

Climate Change Protest

Young People Around The World Skip School in Climate Change Protests

Usually when we think of students skipping school we imagine they are up to no good, as teenagers are prone to getting themselves into all sorts of trouble. However, a massive global protest today shows that young people are organized, concerned, and focused on perhaps the greatest responsibility of all, which is our species’ obligation to ensure a habitable global environment for generations to come. For these students, many of whom are followers of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, climate change is an issue requiring immediate action, as they recognize their generation is likely to experience the most devastating impacts of the phenomenon of anyone living today.

The protests began early in the morning on Friday, September 20th, when instead of heading to school students in several countries took to the streets, marching and carrying signs. In Australia, 100,000 students protested in Melbourne, in an event which organizers described as the largest climate action in the history of the country and which shut down public transportation organizers. In Sydney, demonstrators gathered in a popular public park called the Domain, and carried signs with phrases like “You shall not pollute the land in which you live,” “You’ll die of old age / I’ll die of climate change,” and “We can’t drink oil / We can’t breathe money.” Australia’s Prime Minister described these protests as just a distraction, adding that he felt students would learn more in school than they would protesting.

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In the Philippines, protesters blocked the entrance to a Shell Oil refinery, and in China, the world’s largest contributor to climate change, no protests occurred as they were not authorized by the government. Demonstrators protested in Kenya, Poland, and Berlin, where one protestor carried a sign reading “Make the World Greta Again,” a clear reference to Donald Trump’s infamous campaign slogan and the aforementioned world-famous climate activist. Several cities in Britain saw protests, with the largest being in London, where students justified their absence from school by arguing that soon there may be no school to go to due to the magnitude of the threat. 

Given the degree of anger and concern surrounding the topic, demonstrators are unlikely to be placated no matter what world leaders say

In New Delhi, a city well-known for having tremendous problems with air pollution, children gathered around a government building and chanted “I want to breathe clean.” And in Mumbai, the rain did not deter child protestors, who wore oversized coats while demonstrating.

Despite lacking the authority held by other generations, children have been proactive in advocating for serious action to be taken on climate change, and are often at the center of debates about how to handle the crisis, whether explicitly or implicitly. Having grown up using the internet as a primary platform of socialization, young people have a unique ability to quickly and effectively organize, with geographical barriers presenting only a minor hurdle in their efforts. And while children’s concerns are often dismissed or imagined as exaggerated or unrealistic, young peoples’ understanding of climate change and its impacts follows from the strong global scientific consensus that climate change is real, caused entirely by human activity, that we are already experiencing the effects of it, and that the impacts of climate change range from devastating to apocalyptic depending on what action we take in response to it.

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The protests are being held two days in advance of a meeting of world leaders at the U.N. called the Climate Action Summit during which world leaders are scheduled to present their plans for reducing carbon emissions and taking other actions on climate change. Given the degree of anger and concern surrounding the topic, demonstrators are unlikely to be placated no matter what these leaders say, though the historic protests being held today are sure to come up in conversation. 

While this is certainly not the first time young people have organized in protest for a political cause, the protests being held today around the world are unique in their scope and ambition. Climate change is a problem that affects all young people, irrespective of their country of origin or economic class, though it affects lower-class people, who did the least to contribute to the problem, more severely than upper-class people. As such, the primacy of climate change as a political concern unites an entire generation of young people, as evidenced by today’s historic number of protestors. Though the effects of today’s protests are as of yet unclear, as Generation Z grows up and climate change continues to destroy communities around the world, the political pressure to take drastic action is sure to ramp up.

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