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DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: To truly make a difference to black lives, re-open our schools now

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Those venturing out in London’s most deprived areas in the first weeks of lockdown might have witnessed some rather odd sights.

On some High Streets groups of teenagers took to congregating outside a closed McDonald’s, pressing up against the windows as they waved their mobile phones about.

They weren’t craving a Big Mac or a McFlurry ice cream. They’d gone there in the hope that the free wi-fi might have been left on.

It was the only way these kids — whose schools had closed — could access online classes.

Those venturing out in London’s most deprived areas in the first weeks of lockdown might have witnessed teenagers flocking to McDonalds to access wifi for their online classes. Pictured: In a year 1 classroom, children are taught in a teaching environment safe from Coronavirus for pupils and teachers at Brambles Primary Academy in Huddersfield, Yorkshire

Those venturing out in London’s most deprived areas in the first weeks of lockdown might have witnessed teenagers flocking to McDonalds to access wifi for their online classes. Pictured: In a year 1 classroom, children are taught in a teaching environment safe from Coronavirus for pupils and teachers at Brambles Primary Academy in Huddersfield, Yorkshire 

It was my friend, a teacher in inner London, who told me about the desperate measures some pupils resorted to. While most of us take the wi-fi access we have in our homes for granted, it’s not the same for many hard-up families.

She added that a few good-hearted cafe owners had removed security settings on their wifi so that local children could stand in the doorway to access lessons.

Sadly, the vast majority of the teenagers my friend teaches are from impoverished families in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, and most have failed to attend any online classes since schools shut.

For me, her observations — that image of kids who want to learn gathering under the golden arches of a shuttered McDonald’s — are far more haunting than any statue of a long-dead public figure, slave owner or not.

Which is why I believe that Black Lives Matter activists, who have taken to the streets this past fortnight in protest against the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, would be well-advised to shift their focus onto how to open schools.

It is education, after all, that nurtures aspiration and is the springboard to better prospects and raised living standards.

Education is strongly associated with not just increased life opportunities, but life expectancy, too.

Statistics show that pupils from poorer backgrounds, which include a disproportionate number of BAME people, perform significantly less well than those from wealthier families — a damning indictment of our system.

Keeping schools closed can only do the already disadvantaged even more harm.

It is unforgivable that schools are not a priority and already up and running — with safety measures in place — as we emerge from lockdown. 

And it is an utter outrage that many pupils will not see the inside of a classroom until September — and maybe not even then.

I blame the teaching unions who are thwarting government efforts at every opportunity and politicising the issue.

They are ignoring the needs of all youngsters, while increasing inequality — the difference between private-school provision and that of the state sector during lockdown is stark.

   

More from Dr Max Pemberton For The Daily Mail…

The unions’ actions also disproportionately affect the education of black and ethnic minority children.

Boris Johnson is pledging a ‘massive’ summer school ‘catch-up operation’ to help pupils. But I fear this will be too little, too late.

Few appreciate how the grim, crushing reality of lockdown — and the hardship to come — is affecting the poorest in our society.

Writing in the Mail this week, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, reports that four in ten children do not have access to a computer or laptop.

All that the best of tech can offer — online forums, Google classes, Zoom tutorials, Microsoft Teams initiatives and the like — will have passed them by.

A staggering 85 per cent of disadvantaged pupils are not in school, and 55 per cent of teachers from schools in the most deprived communities claim that their pupils are getting one hour a day of education . . . if that.

Across Europe many countries — Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Belgium — have re-opened their schools.

But in this country we’ve prioritised the opening of zoos, theme parks and pub gardens.

A staggering 85 per cent of disadvantaged pupils are not in school, and 55 per cent of teachers from schools in the most deprived communities claim that their pupils are getting one hour a day of education . . . if that

A staggering 85 per cent of disadvantaged pupils are not in school, and 55 per cent of teachers from schools in the most deprived communities claim that their pupils are getting one hour a day of education . . . if that

We are a laughing stock, and deservedly so!

We must find a way to live with coronavirus, and yet here we are, dithering because of the ‘2m rule’ which impacts schools and so much more.

Research shows that the risk of Covid-19 infection to children is minuscule — they’re more likely to be hit by lightning than die of the virus.

It makes me sick that so many privileged young people are out protesting on the streets — no social distancing for them — and screaming at statues while real inequality goes unchallenged.

For our children’s sakes, let’s get them back to school. 

Take care, OAPs. Your country needs you 

Releasing Britons from lockdown in ‘batches’ is the best way to reduce deaths and protect the economy, according to scientists from Oxford University. 

Anything else is ‘too risky’.

This would mean younger and fitter people go back to work first, as they’re less likely to get severely sick. It’s good sense, but wouldn’t be a popular strategy.

Older people have struggled with not being able to see their loved ones for months. 

The new 'support' bubble rules mean some people could be reunited with family members

The new ‘support’ bubble rules mean some people could be reunited with family members

With the easing of lockdown and the option to meet up with selected family members in ‘bubbles’, they see light at the end of the tunnel.

But I would implore the elderly and frail to comply with the rules for a little longer if they can. While children are our future, they are the custodians of the past and the foundation of our society.

They faced many hardships in the post-war years, helped consolidate the welfare state, and through hard work provided the bedrock for a sound economic future. So to the older generation I say: ‘Keep protecting yourselves. Your country needs you.’

At the start of the pandemic, half my colleagues went off sick. If they displayed symptoms they had to self-isolate for two weeks. Yet their test results came back negative.

One nurse told me he wasn’t sure the swab had been taken properly — the lower part of his nostrils and the back of his throat were swabbed.

Now it seems my colleague’s suspicions were right. Experts are worried testers don’t go deep enough into the nose, which would increase chances of an accurate result.

This has led to thousands of people being told they are corona-free when they might not be. We need better protocols and better-trained staff if testing is to have a real impact.

Are you struggling to sleep? Tossing and turning in bed at night, rather than effortlessly slipping into a deep slumber? The solution, according to psychologists at New York University Abu Dhabi, lies in having a hobby. Pastimes such as baking, gardening or dancing help

you sleep better and give you more energy during the day. As we resume our old lives, we should make the activities that helped us through lockdown a permanent feature. All that banana bread you’ve been making could be the key to improved kip in the long term!

Dogs really are man’s best friend

I loved the story in the Mail this week about Ken Will’s best friend Kaspa, a nine-year-old labrador who is his dementia assistance dog.

These dogs are trained to provide emotional and practical support to people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

There are just ten ‘officially’ trained dogs in the UK, but many dogs offer similar support — minus the title.

I know many older people who rely on their dogs. 

I loved the story in the Mail this week about Ken Will’s best friend Kaspa, a nine-year-old labrador who is his dementia assistance dog

I loved the story in the Mail this week about Ken Will’s best friend Kaspa, a nine-year-old labrador who is his dementia assistance dog

Their pets are a comfort to them when they are distressed, remind them to eat by pestering them for their own food, and ensure they get exercise by demanding walkies. 

When their owners feel scared or alone, dogs can provide reassurance and companionship.But one of the best things about dogs?

They don’t judge you if you’re a bit slow or careless, or even forget their name. Instead, they offer unquestioning love.

A patient of mine, who has autism, struggles to make friends. Yet her life improved dramatically when she got a dog.

‘If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I give him a hug,’ she explained.

No wonder they are man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

These dogs are trained to provide emotional and practical support to people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia

These dogs are trained to provide emotional and practical support to people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia

Dr Max Prescribes… Turmeric

Turmeric is not just a versatile ingredient, it has well-documented health benefits, too.

The bright-yellow spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can relieve the symptoms of arthritis, while promoting healthy digestion.

I’m a recent convert after a colleague made me turmeric tea, insisting that it would ease joint pain in my foot from an old injury. 

I’ve been taking it every day since the pandemic started — I figured anything I could do to help my immune system was a bonus.

Now, with this cook book, I’m boosting my intake further.

  • Buy The Turmeric Cookbook (£10, Aster) from online booksellers

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