Economist Anslem Richards has expressed serious concerns about the long-term impact of virtual learning on the social development of young people, especially primary school students.
He fears a large number of children may not develop any social skills owing to the absence of face-to-face learning in schools.
In an interview with Newsday, Richards said his nine year-old son has been one of the lucky ones.
He said his son, who has been learning through the online curriculum for more than a year, has been involved in some outdoor activities.
Before the latest covid19 restrictions were announced on May 6, Richards said his son was part of an informal basketball camp, led by a former professional player. He said the activity allowed his son to interact with his peers fairly regularly.
The basketball player "put together the young people in the area who were interested and took them to Shaw Park on Saturday mornings and in the afternoons so that they could play and socialise.”
Richards said his son also helps take care of the family’s sheep and dogs.
“In addition to that, he also has older brothers in the house, so there is that continuous social interaction, even with the children in the neighbourhood.”
He said his son is also involved in Sunday school activities.
Richards said an only child may not be as fortunate.
“Just picture a single child in a family who does not have that kind of community or institutional support within the nuclear family. His or her social skills will be significantly compromised.
“Just picture a child who is outside of those activities: how do his social skills and mobility develop and get enhanced over time?”
Richards said secondary school students can also be affected ,because the online curriculum does not include sporting activities.
“And team training is out unless you are training for the national team.”
He said before covid19 one of his teenage sons was progressing as an athlete.
“I have a 17-year-old son who was developing well as a sprinter, running 100 and 200 metres under 11 seconds, and his training has flattened.”
Richards said although his son still tries to keep fit, covid19 has affected his development in the sport.
“All that has been turned upside down with the pandemic. So it is having a serious physical and social development impact on children.”
Richards predicted this could create problems in the future.
“When you have a whole population whose social and physical development are being stymied by the covid19 pandemic, how do we treat with the fallout from that?
“Do we understand what that means for that generation of primary school students?”
Richards claimed the situation is already eroding scholastic achievements on the island.
“We are not a scientific community in Tobago. So we are not doing the assessments to see how students are being impacted.”
Richards believes the issue is serious and requires urgent attention.
“I don’t think the Government is investing the resources or even paying the kind of attention that this issue needs.”
On the economic impact caused by the virus and the government restrictions to mitigate it, Richards said the results have been devastating.
“To understand that, you have to be operating at the ground level, in probably retail trade, or close to that kind of activity, to understand the kind of horror and misery Tobagonians are being made to endure during this pandemic.”
Describing Tobago’s economy as “tourism-led, service-driven and government-powered,” Richards believes the island has been affected on all fronts.
“Tourism has been flattened by covid19. There is no international travel, so passengers are not getting into the air because the pandemic is still raging. So that is zero return on economic activity.”
Richards added the services sector is being crippled because there is no movement of goods and services, owing to the restrictions.
“So that whole sector is being stymied by the required public protocols to restrict movement in an effort to contain the virus.”
Richards added, “So when you analyse the Tobago economy from those pillars on which the Tobago economy is built, you will understand the kind of devastation, suffering and misery the pandemic has dumped on the people of Tobago.
“Unless the THA is waiting on revenue from the Central Government, which the Government does not have, there is very little the THA can do more than talk.”
Richards said this is one reason why Tobago’s autonomy and its ability to build a sustainable economy are critical.
“This is even more important given the times we are facing and the experiences we have unearthed during the pandemic.”