Today's young people need our help and support, says Christine Carlin
During lockdown, I have been doing some research into my family tree. Actually, I started this task about 25 years ago but, in the pre-digital world, it was both expensive and achingly slow, so I gave up.
Now records are available in seconds with a few clicks of the mouse. One of those is of a marriage that took place c1870. It is beautiful. Ornate, perfect script noting the names of the bride and the groom, witnesses, church and date. But there, next to the names of the happy couple is a phrase – ‘X her mark/ X his mark’. No signatures – just ‘Xs’ probably added by the well-educated registrar – because the young couple standing next to him were illiterate. Poor tenant farmers living on a remote Scottish island.
This will take all of society, focusing every bit of our energy, knowledge and skills to help our young people know we care about them and their future.
Some 150 years later, the National Improvement Framework (NIF) focuses on improvement in attainment for all children and young people, particularly in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing. Importantly, the NIF looks to close the gap between the most and the least disadvantaged, just like the registrar and the young couple.
In March, two reports were published on this matter. The Scottish Government Update on Education Attainment, which claimed the gap is narrowing between children and young people who live in poverty and those who do not. And an Audit Scotland report that noted the improvement, but gave other clear messages: “The poverty-related attainment gap remains wide and inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid. Pupils living in the most challenging circumstances have been most affected by school closures. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of school education and other sectors working together to tackle issues which affect young people’s life chances and outcomes, such as child poverty and health and wellbeing.”
Now, we may not have a full picture yet of what impact this terrible pandemic has had on our children and young people. But what is without doubt, whether it is babies born in lockdown, toddlers or those of school age, is that they have faced more trauma than previous generations. We also know that poverty and inequality means that, for some, the impact of the pandemic is greater and potentially longer lasting.
We must act quickly. An election is coming but this is not a time for political point scoring. Nor should we expect schools to fix this. Or parents. This will take all of society, focusing every bit of our energy, knowledge and skills to help our young people know we care about them and their future.
I don’t know if my young relations ever learned to read or write. They were resilient, going on to live long lives. Their children could read and write – in Gaelic but that’s for another article.
In the generations that followed them, many lived through famine and pandemics, some went to war, several emigrated, many went to college or university. At least one is here trying to write TFN articles.
So, let’s not make our young people afraid their life chances have been damaged. Instead let’s give them reassurance and every support we can to build their confidence. Let’s work together to help them become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors, and responsible citizens, whose descendants will speak proudly of the Covid-19 generation. A generation able, not just to sign their own names, but to write their own history.
Christine Carlin is director Scotland for Home-Start UK.