This year has been the hardest of my professional career. I know I’m not alone when I say this. The pandemic has changed lives forever. I’m a private tutor of GCSE English and maths based in London, who’s suddenly had to become a pro in using Zoom, Teams and #WFH correctly.
Taking my lessons online for the first time in March was definitely an eye-opener. I was so embarrassed about the state of my background on screen that I redecorated my whole house. At the same time, I couldn’t help but recognise the privilege I had, in terms of having a good connection, working technology and a quiet space to work in. Many of the young people I worked with were not so lucky.
I found the best way to engage with the young people was to learn with them. They enjoyed teaching me some of the features of the online platforms and saw another side to their tutor. We also created our own curriculum that was personalised and responsive. For example, we worked on writing speeches on the Black Lives Matter movement. We wrote blogs on how to cope with a heatwave during the hotter days. We also wrote diary entries on the impact of climate change on us as individuals. We then talked about the pandemic and how it was affecting us, and looked at how to focus on and improve mental health. Through this I got to know my students on a deeper level that would not have been possible in a ‘normal’ classroom setting in a physical school building.
This learning inspired me to become the emergency temporary Covid rep at my school for the National Education Union (NEU) this summer, and learn about the ways the union is asking the Government to keep us all safe, both in and out of school. I also joined the union’s child poverty action group to try to address some of the inequalities families faced. This was incredibly valuable as I became part of some powerful and exciting conversations, and able to make a positive change in my setting.
On top of dealing with what has been a horrendous global pandemic, our young people have had to continue studying and learning in a completely different way. This new reality is here to stay, and if we are expecting children to study at home as well as at school, then we need to facilitate this learning as much as possible. In real terms, this means providing households and families with free internet connectivity. When parents are stretched enough as it is already, this initiative would take one pressure off. So many have lost their jobs and homes in the current crisis, and we therefore need to look ahead and find strategies to lessen the negative effects. The widening gap between the haves and the have-nots need to be addressed before it is too late. As a society, we will all reap the rewards if we put in the work now. It is my hope that the Government will do the right thing and provide free internet access for all families moving forward, and help create a better future.
Merium Bhuiyan – NEU CV19 Interim Rep