Pandemic challenge accepted

In the pandemic, we’ve reported on students and families who are struggling. But we also saw a steady stream of people who have stepped up to help.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
Tobias Honnen (on screen) teaches a virtual English lesson at Alexander-Coppel-Gesamtschule in Solingen, Germany, on Nov. 17, 2020.

Before I became a journalist, I spent my days wrangling toddlers. Back in 2004, I was invited to join the executive committee at my cooperative day care. The school was trying to inch its way back into the black after years of mismanagement. 

So after the finger paints and waffle blocks had been put away, I found myself squinting at balance sheets and tuition scales. That was when I first faced a brutal truth.

Teachers were struggling to make ends meet. But many of the families weren’t much better off, just scraping by to cover tuition. Still, they were convinced that the educational, social, and emotional value their children gained from high-quality care was worth the sacrifice. 

Fast-forward to 2020, and I am once again struck by just how much families are willing to sacrifice so their children can learn. But this year, despite their efforts, the cracks in our education systems have become more pronounced, and in some cases deepened, under the added strains of COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, our reporters have sought to bring these difficulties into focus for readers. They have found students and families who are struggling. But they have also found a steady stream of peers, neighbors, teachers, counselors, and other community members who have stepped up to help young people. And they have found communities rising to the occasion.

This week, we invite readers to explore a sampling of these stories in a special Humanity Behind the Headlines section devoted to some of the challenges affecting the education and well-being of children and young adults

The struggles raised in these stories have all been exacerbated by the pandemic. But they aren’t new. In a sense, the health crisis has opened our eyes to issues – educational disparities, hunger, other challenges to childhood well-being – that have long been left unattended. Perhaps the current situation can bring a new level of urgency that will push us to find more lasting solutions.

Already, that urgency has translated to a surge of innovation and generosity. In Britain, as the Monitor’s newest correspondent Shafi Musaddique reports, businesses are stepping up to help feed the nation’s 4 million children living in poverty while schools have been shuttered. In Russia, Fred Weir writes, schools are finding ways to allow older instructors to teach from home, while creating new opportunities for student teachers to test their skills in the classroom.

These stories are very much of this moment. But in them, we can also find something more lasting: inspiration for a better future.

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