Matriarchs like me are seen as expendable
What is the similarity between a killer whale and a WASPI woman? The answer is that they both belong to the only two species of mammals that continue to live and play important roles beyond their reproductive years. In the case of the killer whales, the matriarchs guide the younger whales through the waters to the feeding grounds. They are part of the survival strategy of a species.
In the case of the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) females born in the 1950s, we have cared for our families, worked in our communities and our workplaces, and our contributions and authority should not be disregarded. This evolutionary phenomenon is not to be overlooked or ignored in either case.
However, our government has neglected to inform WASPI women of the changes in pension rights and now, with the age profile of Covid-19 mortalities, we are expected to walk quietly and obediently to our deaths in unsafe places of work, or worse still, infect vulnerable family members for whom we care.
I am a teacher 61 years of age, a mother and grandmother, and, while my male colleagues are able to retire at the age of 60 on larger work pensions, I will work until my pension age of 67. Now, like many others facing the demand of working in a crowded classroom, I must listen to [health secretary] Matt Hancock telling young people that they must take social distancing seriously or they may infect and kill their grannies. This week, children and young people have been ushered into confined spaces in schools and colleges. In secondary schools, students are contained in year group “bubbles” of over 100, where social distancing between students is not expected or, indeed, possible.
Meanwhile, the WASPI women, the matriarchs, the nurturers, the protectors of families and communities, are viewed as expendable. Why not just give us all a shovel and ask us to dig our own graves, Matt Hancock?
Except that we do have the survival instincts of the killer whales. We await with anticipation the verdict for the WASPI women of Ceredigion on 15 September, and will consider its implications.
Covid has highlighted the education chasm
I note that multiple studies have, rightly, shone a light on our education attainment gap (“Call for ‘cast-iron guarantee’ on closing the Covid gap”).
As schools reopen fully, exam results are botched and universities scramble to survive, the fragility and outdatedness of our education infrastructure has become crystal clear. And in the end, it’s the public who lose out.
However, this is not an issue on which we should waste time taking political sides. Labour’s latest demand for government to give a “cast-iron guarantee” that no child will be left behind, as a result of Covid-19, is a fundamental misreading of the challenge on two levels.
First, we must make one thing clear: there is no “education gap”. It’s a chasm, it’s growing and it was not created by Covid-19. For decades, education has been unaffordable and inaccessible to huge segments of the population, both here and abroad. The demand for early, higher and further education at a lower cost has never been greater — and the recent pandemic has only highlighted the existing chasm in a new way.
Stop-gap policies and funds may help us to deal with the additional burden created by Covid-19, but we must not lose sight of what will truly move the needle: deploying new technology infrastructure, with speed and at scale, to deliver education at lower cost to more of the population. The tools are there, if we’re willing to invest and embrace what could be an edtech boom.
Second, education is not just about early learning. During lockdown, we saw a staggering 9 million new students sign up to online courses, but a huge proportion of those were young professionals or over-50s. For them, learning during lockdown has been an outlet or a safety net for their job prospects or a driving force for making a career change or starting a business for the first time. For the UK’s 2.5 million unemployed, and the many more thousands who will lose their jobs in the coming recession, we must make sure they, too, are not left behind. For those who need to reskill or upskill to get back into work, equal access to education is just as important.
It’s time for our leaders to graduate from hyperbole and hysteria to reasoned, rounded thinking on education. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our future generations.
Founder and CEO of Shaw Academy
— to www.tes.com