One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic for our young people has to be the limitations on socialisation.

COVID has driven our children into their homes, in many cases meaning more time spent in their bedrooms, in front of the TV or on social media. Screen time has risen exponentially as they are actively engaged in a range of viewing for distance learning, entertainment, gaming or socialising via some form of online ‘houseparty’ platform, finding ways to stay connected with their friends through the cyber world.

The recent semi-shutdown in Malta, like elsewhere, has forced our children into daily hermit mode, and in many cases, it has become difficult to get them outside as the usual activities closed down. This has led to many young people losing their connection to the real world; it becomes abstract and vast. Those big problems such as climate change, racism, the pandemic, feeling almost surreal.

One of the greatest sacrifices for our school during the pandemic was our service-learning programme – an integral component of holistic education which incorporates a responsibility to take action. Students are encouraged to consider ways they can help make a difference and find solutions to make our world a better place for others.

In the past, our students have been able to actively get involved with local initiatives such as the Women’s Migrant Group or the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Our middle school students would visit an old people’s home and our high school students would engage in projects as part of their IB diploma, which includes a service expectation.

Sadly, the pandemic has forced this direct personal engagement to the periphery, as for everyone’s safety, we reduced participation in local projects, particularly the ones that involved social interaction. Nevertheless, our school philosophy is based on the value of being a contributor, so this year we have found innovative ways to keep this concept of service going.

This year, we have found innovative ways to keep this concept of service going

Our Grade 5 students worked on an art mural project to raise awareness on the impact of plastic bottles; this will be passed on to our local council as part of their bigger exhibition on upcycling waste.

Another group got out and about with Bye Bye Plastic Bags Malta (in their own bubbles) in the Pembroke area to clean up the trash.

One Verdala International School student has been involved with the Valley Regeneration project in Mellieħa, helping to clear the village’s valley of rubble and dead leaves.

These examples demonstrate students taking action and getting outside within safe COVID restrictions.

Quite a few our young people have become very used to the safety of the home nest and we do have to draw them out with options to engage and get involved again. This week, Earth Day will be another great opportunity to move the discussion outwards. Research shows that when young people get involved with activities where they are thinking about and helping others and contributing to improvement, it builds both confidence and self-esteem.

As we approach the end of the academic year, we look forward to the future with some apprehension. It is clear that many restrictions may still be in place in  autumn. However, if there is one thing this year has taught all of us, it is that we can adapt to change and reinvent how we manage our operations.

We are all getting better at coming up with workarounds, including ways to shift our children’s mindset from the micro-world of the bedroom to engaging creatively and actively. Through service in the community, they will notice they have the autonomy to make a difference.

Yuval Noah Harari’s 2015 book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow predicted the need for adaptation in the 21st century, stating: “most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations… you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products – you will, above all, need to reinvent yourself again and again”.

As educators, we need to continue, despite the pandemic, to find ways to build resilience within our younger generation so they can adapt and be active risk-takers who can make a difference.

Totty Aris, Head, Verdala International School

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