Wednesday 18 March 2020

Lock-down education and medals

I'm a butterfly generalist: I can do a lot of things . . . not very well. As a sub-teen, I was consistently the 4th fastest runner in my school over 100m but usually clocked 3rd over 80m hurdles. Later I got to be a competent book-binder; struggled to get a few tunes out of the tin-whistle; was briefly The Go To Guy for codon usage TGTG4CU. 25 years ago we embraced Home Education at the unschooling end of that spectrum. We were founder-members of the Irish home education network HEN and collectively we developed a bunch of different techniques, fixes, cunning plans and clever wheezes to satisfy the restless curiosity of our children. Increasingly, the optimum parental strategy became shut up and get out of the way. Having thrown the standard curriculum-towards-exams out the window as being too full of make-weight and insufficiently integrated between 'subjects', Dau.I and Dau.II only needed access to resources to learn more about stuff in which they were interested. In those days it was gorgeous data-rich profusely illustrated Dorling-Kindersley books and CDs and the local library.

But these Covid Days have seen a flood of parents and children trying to sort out a way of life that doesn't include 5+ hours of child-minding and cootie-exchange each day of the working week. With everyone working from home, families are pulling on the coats of any home-educating families they know looking for tips and ideas about how to keep up with the maths, history and language skills which fill the school day. I could set up as a Home Education consultant but I can't see anyone paying €60/hr to hear me say "Relax, leave the kids alone, try Sporcle".  Sporcle quizzes were Dau.II's Finishing School before she enrolled in U. Life. There are far more on-line resources for HE now.

Other musings on the change of life as we know it in Covidland:
Mobilising Useful Skills in a Crisis is, to me, a recipe for national / local success. At the moment, at the extreme left tail of the distribution of cases even if we flatten the curve [R] there are health care professionals who are Covid-19 positive because they took one for the team. They are being stood down until their infection has run its course. In Milan, where they are much deeper in the mire, such Covid-19+ effectives are being put to work if they can stand . . . note: not if they can stand it but if they can be propped upright to do the skilled work that only they are trained for. We are going to be careful and creative about how to re-purpose our work-force.

Here's Danny Schnitzler, a Scots neuroendocrinologist on Twitter: Are you researching COVID-19 in Edinburgh/ Scotland? I may no nothing about virology BUT I do know how to work in a lab. DM me. I can help! Not me, I am a danger to myself and others in the lab [NDE prev] but you can expect someone like Danny to know which of an Eppendorf to open; she could be an asset if vaccine developers start to go symptomatic and have to take to their beds.

Then there's my young friend and mentee from Tamil Nadu, whom we last met being braced with cake after failing to secure any work in the biomedical sector. He's landed a month's trial working in  a pharmacy in South Co. Dublin; not because of the crisis but because he has fired his CV at every vacancy in the sector since the beginning of the year. I have every confidence in him - not so much because he is over-qualified for the work [he has a DPharm from Chennai] but because he is calm, hard-working, willing-to-learn and not afraid to get his hands dirty keep his hands super-sanitized. He's legal here, because he just finished an absurdly expensive MSc in Pharm Regs and his visa allows him to get post-graduate work-experience.

Now Dau.I and me, we are public servants: sucking at the government teat and accumulating pension rights to die for [sorry metaphor error, there]. And let's face it: librarians and 3rd level teachers are not essential services in this crisis. Some of my work colleagues have been re-assigned for training as Covid-19 contact tracers - and I thought, I could totally do that.

Then again, when my aged father-in-law Pat the Salt became increasingly unable to take care of himself, we pitched through the looking-glass into a parallel universe of Filipino gastarbeiter. There is a whole community working here under the radar, all the ones we know in the caring profession. The sacrifices they have made for their families back home are scarcely credible to Westerners. They get one shot at entry to our country, because they won't be allowed back in if they go home. So when brothers get married, parents fall sick and die, the kids graduate from high school and university, these New Irish they soldier on changing the sheets, mopping up the puddles and trying not to cry when they get shouted at by the sick crotchety elders who are in their care. We need this infrastructural in-home care because it's much cheaper, far more compassionate, than institutional care.

Now here's a thought. When my pal Mac the Knife graduated from Dublin Medical School at the end of the 1970s, there was nothing for him here as the 80s recession was just beginning to bite. he therefore took his family off to Canada because that country was really crying out for medical professionals. If you went to Montreal or Toronto to working the sexy teaching hospitals, as well as getting paid [more than employed docs were netting in Ireland] you could, after three years, claim citizenship from the Dominion. If otoh you took your skills and service to the provinces your papers could be processed in a much shorter time. That is how he and his young family rocked up in Uranium City Saskatchewan where the Jan/Feb mean daily temperatures are -20°C; a temperature never achieved on the island of Ireland.

When this Covid-19 has done its damnedest and scythed through our people, maybe a grateful government would pay back the front line workers in papers. And let's re-think how we value people who are now keeping supermarkets stocked and distributing toilet-rolls and groceries. Zero hours contracts for people whose lives are on the line for the community? I don't think so, for very shame.

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