What do they have to say about education during the pandemic?
Enjoy Episode 3 of Bennett’s video series. Elizabeth chats with Uma about her school experience in Paris. At first glance, it seems that her schooling and life carried on, comparatively uninterrupted, in no small part due to her school's efforts. Listen closely & you’ll hear a slightly different story. Maybe it’s that kids haven’t lost their natural tendency & desire to adapt to change, ‘inspiring. Good on them for their commitment & spirit.
(The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Elizabeth: Well, hi, Uma! How about if you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Uma: I'm almost 17 years old and I live in Paris. I'm in my second year of high school and next year will be my last.
Elizabeth: So next year will be your last year before you graduate. And what kind of school do you attend?
Uma: It's a private school... both boys and girls... and while religious, we don't have anything [especially religious].
Elizabeth: So it's what we would call a local private school in Paris.
Elizabeth: What did your school do at the beginning of the pandemic?
Uma: It was last year in March when we went into lockdown - when we did not go to school, but we didn't have online classes either because it was very difficult [for schools] to adapt so quickly. Sometimes the teachers couldn't, and sometimes they had connection problems, etc... so yeah, I didn't really have online schooling. I had more like, videos to watch, or just
homework to do.
Elizabeth: Right. I think that was very typical for a lot of schools because they weren't prepared, and so they weren't ready yet to deliver online education. So did that continue all through the Spring and into the Summer - until the end of the school year - or did you go back to school for in-person classes?
Uma: I should have had school until mid-June, but school stopped at the beginning of June and didn't go back - so we just finished the year a little earlier.
Elizabeth: When the new school year started, what was that like? Was it back to normal?
Uma: Well, kind of. We just had to wear masks.
Elizabeth: Was there social distancing at your school? The desks further apart from one another?
Uma: No, not really!
Elizabeth: So you went back to school in the Fall and it was "school as normal" - actually, France has been famous for doing that during the pandemic. Unlike a lot of countries, they kept their schools open; keeping the school open has been their priority. Has it been consistent that you have been in-person?
Uma: We were consistently in-person in my school, but I know there were a lot of schools around us that were in-person every other day, and online at other times.
Elizabeth: Has school felt exactly the same for you this year?
Uma: This year was a bit different because I didn't really get to know my classmates. With the masks, I couldn't see their faces at all, and we couldn't really do anything other than attending school and then going home. So, we didn't really get to know other people.
Elizabeth: That's an interesting point, that even for students who have been in-person in school, the whole social aspect of their life at school has been very restricted. Maybe, as you've just said, you can say hello to somebody in a classroom, but if you can't go and socialize then that social life is very limited...
How about with your friends who were from other schools? Have you been able to see them at all?
Uma: Yeah. There wasn't a lockdown, so we could go out and see each other. Shops and restaurants weren't open, so we couldn't really do things, but we could always see each other.
Elizabeth: Like, take a walk, right?
Elizabeth: Everybody's done a lot of walking this year...! Do you know what's happening with exams in France these days?
Uma: It's very complicated in France because it's like we're dividing two years. So, I have a part of my course this year, and another part next year. I don't know what we're going to do this year - if we can take tests, or if we're just going to do...
Elizabeth: ...an assessment based on the work already done?
Uma: Yeah. I don't really know what we're going to do. I know that last year, students didn't take tests, but I know that they really trying to [make that happen] this year.
Elizabeth: So, for you in your second to last year, you're probably beginning to think about University. That process - are you doing it now? Differently? Would you usually be visiting schools?
Uma: Yeah, I think I should be visiting some schools, but with COVID-19, I can't, really. There are online presentations, but no, not really.
Elizabeth: Right. You can't go and have a tour of a school.
Uma: No, I don't think so.
Elizabeth: In terms of your education - is there anything since the pandemic that has been particularly difficult for you?
Uma: I was lucky because I didn't have a lot of online schooling, but I don't really like [learning online] because it's really hard to concentrate and to stay focused on what the teacher is saying. I had a little bit of online schooling and I'm just happy that I didn't have more of it. I prefer in-person.
Elizabeth: Did your school just go online last week? Is it going to stay online for a while?
Uma: Yes. I think we're supposed to do another week online after this break, and I think we're gonna try to go in-person again after that if we can.
Elizabeth: Have there been changes in your education related to the pandemic that you like?
Uma: Well, the only thing I like is that where we were online, I could sleep more! Yeah, I didn't have to go to school, go home...
Elizabeth: A less stressful schedule when you've been online. Okay.
I know you have a younger sister and brother, are they online?
Uma: My sister is. I know that last year during lockdown, she was. Every course was maintained, they were very well organized, and are this year, too. My brother has homework to do but no online [or in-person] schooling. He's just at home, doing homework.
Elizabeth: And he's 10, right? So that must be difficult for him.
Is there anything that you would like to say about education during a pandemic?
Uma: I don't really know (laughs).
Elizabeth: Random question. Do you have a favorite word?
Uma: Yeah! It's German actually - Eichhörnchen. It's a little hard to pronounce. It means "squirrel." I think it's weird and funny!
Elizabeth: It's a great word! How many languages do you speak?
Uma: I speak two languages fluently, French and Hungarian. I've studied German for almost seven years, so, I'm pretty good. And English.
Elizabeth: Well, you're doing pretty well in English, I will say. Good for you! Well, thank you for chatting with me, and for sharing your perspective, and I'm happy that it's been so "normal." Hats off to France, and to your school, for making that happen.
*Recorded March 2021
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Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.