The Italian educational – teaching value of the school, hibernated because of the pandemic impact, must be awakened.
Every respectable civilized Country has a duty to take care of the little ones.
Because the time and space that each of us occupies on earthly travel has a short or long term; whether it is thought that the soul will return to this Earth again, or that it is thought that its Infinite Journey will continue elsewhere. In any case, the soul is here now, it lives within the body of each of us. Never before now, it asks to be heard, with truth. And integrity.
Beyond own certainties about Infinity, what is sure for everyone is that we are here, and now, any longitude or latitude, and that we are called not to evade the perhaps most crucial question of all the questions we could ever ask ourselves. It is a question that embraces other questions, such as: When will we get out of this pandemic? How will we get out of social distance or isolation?
The crucial question in some way summarize the other ones in a unique dimension: how are we giving meaning to our life, here and now? What sense will we give next? What legacy will we leave in terms of the evolution of human beings, respect, respect for oneself and for others, ability to transcend one’s particularities and individual points of view, not to cancel them, but to revitalize them and make them constructive with those others?
And therefore: What sign and what future will we be able to leave to the little ones who are already here with us now, and to the future children who will come and live on this Earth? Because in the end, that’s what really matters.
Looking into the lost and questioned eyes of a child in these pandemic days calls all us, without distinction, or should do so, to our most authentic responsibilities. It should shake our consciences, make us vibrate in deep disdain for the censorship of a Chinese regime which, in the best scenario, delayed the spread of the news of the virus thus preventing everyone from rapidly adopting cautions by many countries, including Italy. Remarkable, however, are the rumors that rise with increasing vigor, albeit not conclusive, on the possibility of a virus release from Whuan’s laboratory, a release that could be accidental or intentional.
In any case, it remains certain, firm, and unanimously agreed that the censorship of the Chinese government has delayed the spread of the news of the virus. Responsibilities cannot be circumvented forever. And the questions will find answers.
Looking into the eyes of a child who is undergoing an heavy lockdown in Italy should make us inflexible in our promise to ourselves that the current suffering of our children and young people will end as soon as possible and that, as adults, each of us will take responsibility to give them back the freedom of a full life, and to pursue in the right ways those who made themselves responsible for this massacre to humanity and children.
These children eyes are often sunken into pallid faces that claim sun and movement and life, and that in silence require listening to childhood and adolescence overwhelmed by something invisible, intangible, and therefore even more disorienting. Something that leaves children with a sense of confusion, despair and doubt, all mixed with an absolute as much as a sudden deprivation of freedom. The children and young people, who spent most of their life between school desks, suddenly had to leave everything, without being able to understand, without being able to elaborate, without being able to tell what they thought, what they felt.
Without being able to greet their friends, without being able to greet the teachers.
The loss of reference points, crucial for the psycho-emotional stability of children and young people, was suddenly decreed: a sponge blow and in less than 12 hours throughout Italy their lives were transformed. Their freedom was broken.
The freedom to explore the world with wonder, with the magical feeling that we adults often lose, that feeling of a life all to live, making mistakes and getting up again, fighting and embracing, dreaming, and knowing deep down that dreams can come true. All the dreams. The freedom to grow, learning to know oneself as much as knowing the neighbor at his desk, respecting one’s own and others’ spaces, one’s own borders, even physical ones, because real coexistence and legality mindset and concept start from these small, and at the same time immense, discoveries. The freedom to choose between doing one’s school duty, and that of not doing it. And take the consequences of own decision and actions. Because this is reaping the seed of responsibility which is personal and collective at the same time. The freedom to discover that there are teachers who can recognize the value of their students, beyond their mistakes, and who are able to set the crucial boundaries of the NO, within which authoritatively and respectfully bring their students back to the their nature as human beings, capable of constructive social relationships, helping them to develop this competence also through educational paths of emotional intelligence.
The freedom to grow and experience knowledge and relationships beyond the home walls, both when they are comfortable and solid, built on authentic and healthy love, and when they are fragile and sometimes not very protective. Because all this is to grow, all this is to allow children and young people to develop emotional and cognitive intelligence, acquire skills of autonomy, of divergent and critical thinking, the only way of thinking that is truly capable of giving voice to the deepest true self, which is different and unique for each of us, while allowing different thoughts to coexist when expressed with mutual respect and peacefully.
In the current pandemic emergency situation, families have done their best. They did it between the anguish over what it was happening and the look in the eyes of their children, they did it with courage and love. Even those families in which there has been a difficult and critical coexistence since before the pandemic, and in which the parents was forced to maintain a tolerance coexistence even before hardly sustainable.
Many teachers did their best. School’s Directors have done their best, sometimes showing a luminous ability to bring humanity, professionalism and the ability to involve all the components of that particular Universe which is the School, often criticized, and often rightly, but which in some cases has been able to express, in this pandemic today, human excellences to be placed unconditionally at the disposal of children, young people and their families.
Because a school, at every level of responsibility, is certainly called not only to guarantee the right to education and the right to health, as badly also at high levels has been asserted by political decision-makers. The School is a privileged place, an educational agency in which the development of each individual’s personality is encouraged: skills, knowledge, emotional, psychological, physical development, in the most harmonious growth possible for each individual, within the educational co-responsibility agreement with the families. The necessary closure to contain Covid-19 and a virus that hit us from China was inevitable. I’m underling, in Italy it was, past tense.
It was, because protecting minors is a duty, sanctioned and sculpted in every Constitution of democratic Countries, it is a duty that resonates in the International Universal declarations that many countries have signed and ratified, making them become the law of their own state, essential. It was, because what has been called ‘war’ could only lead to significant choices. A war is an exacerbated conflict. And in every conflict, children must be protected.
International institutions such as the United Nations have known this well over the years and have developed a growing recognition and significant strengthening of the legal framework for children and conflicts; and other international institutions such as NATO also recognizes the protection of children in conflicts as a priority, particularly in armed conflicts, but not only in that context.
The protection of children is therefore considered not just a moral imperative but is structured within a frame of reference in which the United Nations and NATO, each for its own specificities, cooperate and commit themselves, side by side in recognizing the imperative need to protect children in conflicts. This is a crucial principle for the NATO Alliance which considers this not only a matter of peace and security, within its field of competence, but a priority, an integral part of its vision and mission.
If this is undoubtedly a certain and known fact in the case of armed conflict, perhaps it is not known to most that within this reference context, NATO has developed over the years what is called Gender Perspective.
The term ‘Gender’ has had wide and varied linguistic applications and digressions, especially in recent years, and especially in Italy, and has been contextualized in various ways. The fact that it was a more or less used term, when not abused, however lies outside the intent and purpose of this contribution.
What it needs to be clarified, however, to clear the field of any doubt, is that the expression Gender Perspective of NATO origin, has nothing to do with the attempts to politicize it by some national institutional decision-makers, who have reduced it, erroneously, to a request of equalization of roles and positions between male and female persons within NATO’s political-military contexts, or that have even turned it over to feminist demands. In a completely misunderstood and personal interpretation of the Gender Perspective concept, they tried to transform it in an inappropriate assumed female recovery towards an assumed absolutist and male chauvinist world.
If it is necessary to continue to cultivate, for the full realization of NATO’s peace and stabilization goals, the mutual and coordinated contribution and mutual integration between the specificity of female individuality and the specificity of male individuality among those who work. within the NATO Alliance, it is important to specify that this process in NATO, both in political and military levels, has not only been underway for some time, but is now at a very advanced level.
The incorrect reductive and retrograde approach mentioned above has therefore unfortunately often emptied of meaning the significance and substance of NATO’s elaboration of the Gender Perspective concept and approach.
What NATO means for Gender Perspective is in fact the awareness that the a crisis management and stabilization go through the necessary acknowledgment that all the interests of all the actors actually/potentially involved in the crisis must be taken into consideration, listening authentically their deepest needs and interests, and all the actors mean everyone: men, women, boys and girls.
At this time, this Gender Perspective approach is completely absent from the Italian political decision-makers, who would be called instead to adopt it.
In fact, when Countries are shocked by exceptional crises, and today’s pandemic it is exceptional crisis, each individual responds not only in an absolutely specific way, but by bringing out the peculiarities of their gender and age-related characteristics. And these peculiarities are linked to specific needs, which must be met and satisfied, because only an integrated approach, a comprehensive approach, another NATO vision fundamental concept, can guarantee success in the conflict or crisis management.
In particular, the youngest, both children and teenagers, endured profound turmoil during crisis situations, suffering enormous psychological, physical, emotional and mental problems, because their social environments are put under stress, and the access to reporting and support systems is failing or strongly limited.
The forced disruption of the relationship and support systems that the school guaranteed, and which it cannot guarantee with current e-learning methods, currently adopted in Italy, was a consequence of the pandemic, which in itself is a traumatic event, especially for children and young people, who do not have the necessary tools to process the trauma independently. Because it is a traumatic event, it should be addressed as such, also through a neuroscience approach and point of view, to get the most complete picture of the situation and therefore tackle it adequately and not with palliatives. If in an emergency phase these palliatives can be useful resources, in the long term they all the connotations to become the real problem to be solved.
The E-learning method applied to children and teenagers educations are one of these palliatives, a resource that can translate itself already in the medium term into a silent threat to the integrity of entire sections of the population, in particular of the most vulnerable ones, the youngers, the future of our society.
Striving to predict future scenarios from current indicators is our possibility to weaken and neutralize the pandemic effects. We have to do it for ourselves, but much more for our children, who look to us with confidence. Solid researches within the neuroscience field agree that being subjected to very intense or prolonged traumatic experiences, especially during pregnancy and childhood, causes an excessive and protracted secretion of cortisol in children, such as to inhibit the generation of new neurons by the amygdala, part of the brain that manages emotions and especially fear, with lasting implications that makes the human being vulnerable to undergo malicious mental conditioning.
An underdeveloped amygdala together with a cortisol excess can damage the hippocampus, namely the brain area that manages the memorization process, and can damage the regulatory interaction between the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of consciousness, and the archaic limbic circuit. The traumatic event therefore remains encysted and not processed with considerable damage to the ability of adapting, reacting, building relationships, which makes the subject hit by the traumatic event potentially more dominable and more dependent.
Similarly, emotional states of acute and chronic psychophysical stress inhibit the development of frontal brain activities, assigned for monitoring and regulation process, and involve the activation of other parts of the brain that are more archaic and unconscious. The result is an important slowing down of the ability to evolve, learn, get rich in knowledge and awareness, but also to repair and regenerate one’s cells, and to recover energy. Stress becomes chronic when the activation of alarm responses becomes so frequent that the body gets used to functioning at that alert level, so much so as to lead to generate automatic and uncritical responses.
The extreme prolongation of the social distancing and isolations measures, so much long to start assuming connotations of undue prolongation, and the non-reactivation of the real, not virtual, school system, which is a fundamental and irreplaceable environment of socialization, as much as the communications left to filter by institutional environments on the fact that schools do not will reopen until September, a time so distant that children are not often able to bring awareness into its real dimension, all these facts are building the framework of acute and chronic psycho-physical stress.
Furthermore, the disorientation generated by the shock that has affected the whole population should not be underestimated. In fact, this type of shock usually causes a state of regression and softening making people, and children and teenagers in particular, more susceptible, with the risk to open a cognitive passage capable to liquidate their previous convictions and their previous loyalties and introduce them to different value systems.
It must be added that the constant repetition of elements evoking the shock, violent and continuous, lead the body to learn to like and try to maintain or recover certain chemical situations of the brain and, in order to obtain internal gratification, often through behaviors and attitudes inappropriate to the context, dangerous, illicit. The establishment of these mechanisms can generate, in children and teenagers, personality traits that are difficult to modify due to the organic mechanism to which they are anchored. Therefore, may prevail the need to distort internal chemical well-being over the need to adapt to external objective circumstances.
The continuous and systematic, and someway obsessive, exhortations to stay at home, by spot or by official declarations, which arrive consistently even in moments of relaxation also through the arbitrary use of non-institutional channels, breaking into the intimacy of homes and families, programs exclusively focused on shock, monothematic social networks, continuous requests for changes in that documentation declared mandatory to self-legitimize minimum movements, and the same e-learning triumphantly, painted as the solution not only of the emergency but even evoked as a possible strategic solution in the medium and long term, all these facts reinforce the suggestibility, which in itself is the door to put into hibernation the divergent and critical thought, the unique way of thinking that keeps alive a society and its development, a society that should have its foundation on psycho-physical well-being of its inhabitants, even of the youngest.
And finally, when in combination with shock and stress, an additional resource is used, namely fatigue, the consequence is the deactivation of the centers of consciousness and critical analysis. The prefrontal cortex, in fact, in addition to the critical function, has the function of recognizing, analyzing, evaluating, learning the new, assimilating. Administering within a pandemic context, through institutionalized e-learning tools, many inputs, although each of them can be new and interesting, generates a situation in which the prefrontal cortex works a lot and gets fatigued, and which gradually becomes always less capable of analyzing independently and critically. Once the cortex is tired, the brain’s guide moves on to the more primitive and emotional limbic circuits, therefore more suggestible and defenseless.
If therefore it is well understood that the massive closure of the schools was put in place with the intent to contain the spread of the virus, it cannot be considered that the soil that has followed has become fertile and vulnerable ground to malicious and manipulative attacks, even from a psychological point of view, attacks that are weapons in the so called asymmetric conflicts.
It cannot also be underestimate that these are typical psychological weapons used in the foreign fighters recruitment process, as in details I analyzed in one of my recent book (Michela Ravarini, Foreign Terrorist Fighters and International Law). For this reason it is crucial to defuse the fuse, and defend this human terrains, in order to prevent rectuitment process attempts, through infiltration of manipulative elements, with illicit and antidemocratic goals.
Even if the top priority now is on the emergency situation to face, the pandemic does not eliminate the terrorism and violent extremisms threats, which usually take advantage from crisis contexts. Then, we have the duty now to stand to safeguard also the human being individual terrain, working and acting in prevention manner, with a medium and long term vision, to guarantee the individual resilience from malicious actors attacks.
Then, first of all it is necessary re-orienting the e-learning resource, disinvesting and shifting the money and resources investments to something else, namely in the world of real and not virtual schools.
Just to underline the point: the E-learning channel in itself is an interesting tool, a viable path, for the adults, which have a neuro-cognitive structure already shaped in its fundamental traits, and which have thanks to their age, the autonomous capability for choosing a lot of meaningful different experiences in various sectors of their lives. For children and teenagers, which have a neuro-cognitive structure in the process to be shaped and for who learning is relationship and relationship is learning, e-learning can only be a temporary, sporadic tool, only referable to urgent situations and to be dismissed as soon as possible.
It is in fact potentially a preferential channel, especially in a pandemic context, through which other tools can be activated with the aim to silence the divergent thinking, and through which generalized control, ideological, extremists and autocratic deviations can find space and take root. These deviations are very well known by China, which in fact makes massive use of e-learning, pushing for this kind of projects also within UNESCO.
I want just reiterates that, even in the light of this pandemic, we, including political decision-makers, should have learned to look at what comes from China with a conscious eye, sifting through every element that comes from its regime and described as ‘brilliant and promising initiative’, the ‘Chinese response to problems’ which is nothing but political, ideological, economic and military soft – power at work. The e-learning project is no exception, it is an extension and an application of this autocratic power.
Some indicators therefore:
– following the delay in the information on the Chinese virus COVID -19, the extreme measure of the closure of schools, necessary to contain the infection, could only require the activation of methods. such as e-learning, to mitigate the education effects of the restrictive measures,
– It was UNESCO, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response), who identified this measure as a resource for dealing with the epidemic,
-UNESCO is the United Nations educational agency specializing in education, is responsible for coordinating the ‘Educational agenda 2030’, it has China as its third contributor, and in the recent past it has supported e-learning projects advanced by China and aimed at influencing education in particular in Africa (UNESCO China Funds-in-Trust project);
-China has been working since 2015 on the diffusion of e-learning both within its territory and externally, in particular in post-crisis/post-conflict situations, bringing it back, with the usual narrative already highlighted in the past contribution on autocratic China, to the need for sustainable development. It indeed actually using it as an indoctrination tool, especially after 2015, when the Chinese education minister banned the spread of the so-called ‘Western values’ among university students, i.e. the so-called ‘7 Chinese NO’: No to universal values (freedom, equality, human rights), No to freedom of speech, No to civil society, No to civil rights, No to the recognition of errors by the Chinese Communist Party (including the Tiananmen Square Massacre ), No to capitalism, No to judicial independence;
-institutional e-learning in Italy is managed by the WeSchool digital class platform, as visible on the website of the Ministry of Education;
-Marco De Rossi is the head of WeSchool, a start-up started as Oilproject in 2009, which in that same year activated lessons on issues not only of computer science, seeking a first expansion of the virtual platform towards broader cultural themes, and choosing as its own presentation-ticket the discussion of issues such as, in fact, the Chinese dynamics, the control and political use of innovation according to the Chinese recipe, and the so-called wikicrazia (orientation belonging to the 5-stars Movement today in the Italian Government coalition and supporter of the Chinese partnership), promoting the activism of the so-called Civil hacking, understood as the need to “hack” institutions to make them more transparent, legitimizing it as an attempt to get closer to those sections of the population who, not feeling represented, would self-isolate themselves from public life;
-in 2016 Marco De Rossi launched WeSchool, financed by Club Digitale, TIM Ventures and Club Italia Investimenti, declaring that he wanted to move his focus from Italy to Europe, and challenge the big international players such as Google Classroom, Apple iTunes U and Edmodo “. WeSchool is now owned by Telecom Italia, the Digital Club, Club Italia Investments;
-We School, which has today found its trampoline for further revitalization, has WeSchool Library inside it and presents itself as one of the most massive cultural dissemination projects in Italy: it is highly likely that it will continue to be the spokesman of orientations Chinese culture and ideology, with which it shares an absolutist vision towards e-learning methods;
-On April 17, the Italian Ministry of Education published a ‘public advice for the creation of smart classes for first cycle schools with the aim of ‘equipping schools in the first cycle of education with devices to be assigned, in this emergency phase, on loan for free use of students who do not have them, in order to guarantee forms of distance learning and the right to study. Once the emergency phase is over, the digital devices purchased by the schools will be able to support ordinary teaching activities.”. The public advice is going to expire on next April 24.
These indicators raise some considerations and questions, in the awareness that each technology has a strong impact from an economic, sociological and political point of view. In consideration of the aforementioned public notice, it is likely that the time frame considered “emergency” by the current political decision-makers goes far beyond the supposed 4 May 2020 at least with reference to the education sector.
It cannot escape and alarm that, while other Countries, including European ones affected by the pandemic, are mobilizing to activate new forms of return of children to school, well understanding how this is fundamental for the protection of their psycho – physical health, for their development of learning and motivation, for the constructive exit from the crisis, Italy is moving in the opposite direction of this trend, choosing the path of building a ‘large digital school laboratory’, as it was triumphantly defined by WeSchool platform.
For the benefit of whom and for what? Because it certainly is not for the benefit of children or young people.
One wonders if in this ‘large laboratory’ children and young people, their minds, their way of thinking, their vulnerabilities, their strengths have become in spite of themselves ‘guinea pigs from the psychological laboratory’, to make them accustomed to unique thought as in the best Chinese tradition, to make their minds malleable and fertile ground to be ideologically oriented. Moreover, the thematic closeness of the very first WeSchool launch lessons to the Chinese model are embryos of a predilection for autocratic modalities, cloaked under the harmless concept of ‘inclusion of digital innovation in learning’.
Italy is choosing to ballast a precious asset such as education in the virtual world, showing itself not only incapable of a serious reality check but also, and above all, showing indifference to the necessary protection of childhood and adolescence, which should instead, be more accentuated in times of crisis such as the present one. Where other countries, from Denmark to Taiwan to South Korea, are aiming without hesitation and are already activating the return to class, albeit with all the necessary safety measures, therefore aiming with a long term vision the development of the future adults of their Country, and likely future adults harmonious growth and with open minds, Italy with its current choices is forgetting and violating the new generations, once again heading towards China-centric choices, absolutely perceptible under trace, although hardly visible.
We cannot fail to investigate it adequately, also in consideration of all the well-founded alarms to national security deriving from the adhesions to China and its policies.
Different schools strategies can be activated at this stage.
– Why instead of guaranteeing funds to create e-learning ‘smart classes’, when the country is restarting , rather working to organize the gradual reopening of schools?
– If large companies and bookstores are reopened in the name of safeguarding culture, why not reopen schools, which are certainly essential for the culture and development of a Country, for instance organizing contingent groups of children and teenagers, who could return to attend the classrooms, even in rotation during the day, in order to allow everyone a gradual necessary return to the reality?
– Why instead of financing e-learning with huge financial aids, taking into consideration that this method by its very nature accentuates the harmful psycho-neurological effects of the pandemic impact of the and therefore it should be considered a buffer resource, certainly not a strategic opportunity for a Country, rather take the opportunity for specific training courses for teachers of all levels and degrees aimed at developing their skills in the field of emotional education, education in the emotional management of critical situations for children and teenagers, class group management in an emergency situation?
The questions must be a stimulus for a wide-ranging assessment of the possible measures to be taken to protect the children of one’s own country, and what is hindering in Italy the adoption of measures adopted elsewhere.
While the positions of the Teachers who praise the goodness of distance learning are becoming increasingly sparse and isolated, even if this attitude seems to be in line with current political decision-makers, it is totally careless and / or unaware of the damage to children and adolescents. To these haggard teachers who have forgotten or never developed the sense of their work, it should be noted that e-learning is not the panacea to solve the critical gaps of classes difficult to manage, and the excuse for remaining negligent in what should be the necessary assumption of responsibility in pursuing professional training to cultivate their ability to build meaningful relationships with pupils and to ensure that pupils build among them. The inertia of the few and their negligence cannot and must not affect the right of minors in our country to an harmonious growth.
On the other hand, the ever-growing majority of the teaching class in the whole national territory shows to be able to express their dislike on choices of absolutist and totalitarian adoption of the e-learning tool, well understanding that if the e-learning was the privileged resource for keeping in touch and maintaining the minimum educational continuity with students and families, it is also deeply aware of the limits and possible diversion of this tool, which today requires to be overcome and weakened, because the real need is a reopening of the school definitely before the end of the 2019/20 school year.
To these teachers, and there are many, who are honoring their role and function, more than ever in such a decisive way, that children and adolescents and their families today look with renewed confidence and awareness of the their role, because they are showing themselves capable of a medium and long-term vision of protecting children and adolescents, and of the whole family groups, which evidently eludes to current political decision-makers.
The alarming doubt arises that the pandemic shock has impacted so much on the group of political decision-makers today at the guide of the Country, to leave them totally at the mercy of an external interference, the Chinese one first of all and its strategic alliances, from which they do not want to escape, because it is difficult to admit that we have not see before the indicators of malevolent interference, or do not know how to get away because they are already to some extent dependent on Chinese interference. The obstinacy of some positions, not least those acted in a sector so delicate for a country, such as education, opens up this scenario of possibilities. And it opens up to the need for a clear stance by those who have the institutional power to do it: it is inevitable and necessary to reorganize the country’s executive power structure today.
In order to avoid further destabilization of the country, even in the medium term, it seems inevitable that the government will be replaced with different and new subjectivities, able to act as much as possible outside of purely party dynamics and outside influence dynamics. and Chinese manipulation evidently underway, to give answers strategically centered on the good of Italy as a nation, and on its inhabitants, including children, and able to fill that gap of trust between citizens and institutions that is opening up like a chasm every day of more in our country.
This is not a political party or an economic interest request; a Nation of Children and Youths asks for it, day after day more and more full of pain, increasingly at the limit of their resilience, which claim, together with their parents and to their families, a return to the classrooms, to their classmates, their teachers.
At these calls, it cannot turn own head. In conscience, it cannot.
I repeat: look them in the eyes, listen to their voices and their silences, and then give the only intelligent, healthy, safe and loving answer: reopen the schools and restart the school year in the classrooms, real classrooms, the only real ones.
Author: Michela Ravarini ©copyright reserved Italy, 20 April, 2020