The whole world is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and in many countries the health crisis is still a threat. In countries where schools are still closed, many students are left in “educational poverty” without the means to access social distance learning. In the northern hemisphere, the end of summer vacation this year was marked by uncertainty: will schools reopen or not? Group chats amongst parents became panicky, leaving those who have more than two children in difficulty to keep up! All parents suddenly became epidemiologists, virologists, statesmen; each one shares his or her idea, and there are many, too many opinions. From the catastrophists point of view, for whom schools shouldn’t have been reopened until 2023, to the moderates, who calmly state that, after reopening, it will be closed ad libitum, to the inexorable optimists, for whom the virus no longer exists (if it ever existed to begin with!), so there was no reason not to open.

But in the sea of messenger chats in which we swam, without finding refreshment in the heat of August, for me, a woman and a mother, it was helpful to keep the course by focusing on those directly affected: the schoolchildren!

We have lived without school for many months ­– without a reference point, especially for children and teenagers. It was a void that, at the beginning, was accepted with joy, but in the long run left them feeling lost. Yes, lost – because we are not islands, and relationships are essential for growth and for defining our identity as men and women.

This is why the school, before being a place of transmission of knowledge, should be a place of personal development. If you simply see it as a didactic field, it is easy to fall into the race for efficiency, which unfortunately in our country is like a mirage. Then you think only about sanitizing, re-arranging the classes, buying single student desks (with or without wheels…), and a thousand other organizational issues.

If this were the case, then you could do schooling using the now-familiar social distance learning: students at home and teachers at home, but how would they relate? Where would be the transmission of that knowledge, not only technical, but also human, which comes from the experience of the adult who is basically holding the lives of our children in his hands? Where would be that wonderful duty for the teacher, which is to educate, to bring out the best and the beautiful from each student, and to impress, to leave an impression not only on the mind but also on the soul?

We are going through a crisis, but a crisis requires real renewal when it passes. How could the school renew itself? We could think of it as of a living organism, made up of people: the pupils, who are the generation of the future, and the teachers, who have to take care of them (and the parents, too, why not?), and knowledge is like the blood that circulates in the organism to give children vital energy to face life’s many challenges. Young people are an explosive force who will be one day adults, and who - like totipotent cells that must differentiate themselves in order to have each their own specialization - each of them must find their own identity.

Everyone is wonderfully unique, full of strength, life, and enthusiasm; they are like sponges that absorb everything they see. For this reason, the best teacher is the example; school should not be a boring explanation of concepts, but rather should teach about beauty - the beauty of life. And this cannot be conveyed by books, but by the testimony that a teacher should give, so as to capture the pupils, motivating them and grabbing their interest. From their interest in life then spontaneously arises the curiosity for knowledge; if, instead, we start from having to know, everything becomes unbearably boring and pointless, and this results in the apathy that many young people display nowadays.

But the testimony we are talking about is made of flesh, so it cannot be transmitted online. Rather, it passes through the physical presence of the teacher, who has to be he himself a lover of life, truth, and people. Technology helps, and it helps a lot! Thanks to technology, our children were able to move forward and finish last year's courses. However, abusing technology in an already hyper-technological society can only lead to loneliness and prevent that direct contact (but always 1.5 meters distanced in Covid times...) from which the example arises and which propels the passion for knowledge, something that will never come out of a computer.

Those classrooms, empty for months, those hallways left deserted are, at last, again full of voices of excited children running through them and steps of boys and girls full of adolescent emotions, who are the future of our societies. Let's take care of them!

Reopening schools was important: it meant giving young people hope, but not on the whim of a mere slogan like “everything will be all right” (“Andrà tutto bene” in Italy) that sounds a bit like a happy ending of a movie. If you have experienced the fear of Covid or the death of a relative, that phrase is simply not enough. Our children have a thirst for hope, which is not given with optimistic phrases, but is transmitted by voice, by actions. And they hunger for the meaning of life and for someone to give them a taste of it.

This new start, uncertain and unstable, with many schools still unprepared to welcome students, with classes half in attendance and half at home with bad internet connections, with teachers who see their enthusiasm undermined by the thousands of bureaucratic and practical difficulties they face, it teaches us that life does not always run smoothly, but that even in the most difficult situations you cannot lose hope, and you have to move forward with the means you have, doing the best you can do. "He who stops is lost," as an old proverb goes: to start again means to grow, to get involved in the difficulties, to take the difficult moment as an opportunity to grow and renew oneself.

As a mother, I was happy that my daughters, started going to school again. I saw the joy in their eyes. Now, it may have only lasted two days, but it was really quite different than the sad faces they made in the past just thinking about going back to school! This alone is enough to understand the indispensable importance of school in our children’s daily life.

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