In 2005, more than 1,800 people were killed in Hurricane Katrina when it wrecked the Gulf Coast. Around 372,000 children were reported to have been displaced from their homes after the storm. Also, at least 100 state schools were destroyed and the few that remained were shut for weeks.

Once the storm receded, the displaced students were placed in new schools but there were lingering memories of the disaster. Some of the students showed increasing signs of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder after the event. A study conducted 5 years after Hurricane Katrina showed that more than 1/3 of the displaced children were a year behind their peers on academic grounds.

Predicted Impact on School Children

Come to think of it, a tropical storm bears some resemblance to the viral coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe in 2020. Schools have been closed down and billions of children worldwide are stuck at home. Researchers get useful insights from natural disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, parents and researchers worldwide are wondering if there will be a long-term impact of the coronavirus on children.

Of course, the initial signs of the lockdown are not encouraging. Previous studies on natural phenomenon such as earthquake, storms and disease outbreaks on children have revealed that they suffer from mental health issues and poor educational attainment.

Online Learning

For each hazard, the characteristics are quite relevant when it comes to the recovery experience. However, the human impact is always consistent for different children. During the coronavirus pandemic, various schools have come up with distance learning options. Here, teachers are offering educational material through online portals such as Zoom, Google Classroom and YouTube.

However, there is mixed evidence for online learning being used as a direct substitute for physical school. Switching to online learning follows the same patterns often used when natural disasters come up. Basically, people who are from poor economic backgrounds receive the worst impact when this happens.

You can’t know how much your child is learning during the lockdown. However, a survey from Sutton Trust and Teacher Tapp, an an app for polling teachers, has a few insights. For instance, in the UK, private school students are twice as likely to access online lessons every day compared to state school students. Working-class students, on the other hand, were spending less time during lockdown studying and have seen a huge drop in the quality of their work.

Research shows that 55% of teachers in the disadvantaged areas feel that children were getting about an hour or less of education every day. Private schools were already equipped with online learning tools before the outbreak happened. On the other hand, wealthier students have their own devices and reliable internet as well as enough space to study at home.

Basically, half of the private school kids have  online lessons from 9 to 3 every day and 10% of the state schools can’t achieve that. Some schools in France, China and Germany have now reopened. The UK government has indicated that they hope schools reopen from 1st June, 2020 for some of the ages.  Some places like nurseries in Islington are opening. However, they have to meet the reopening criteria in place. Other countries such as Wales and Scotland don’t have a clear timetable on when to reopen schools.

Looking to the Future

Schools in New York, Portugal, Italy and California are expected to remain closed until September. The top government advisors recommend having a 5-year recovery plan when it comes to post-disaster planning. For the current outbreak, the recovery could take longer, especially if the pandemic causes another recession. The lessons from disaster research are bleak but there is hope that even with everything that is happening, children of disaster will recover and lead happy and normal lives.