Learning about Covid?
Children are being educated about the COVID-19 vaccine in classrooms across the country. This is to provide much-needed information for them to make a considered decision along with their parents and carers. An examination of these materials is therefore wise to ensure that families are making an informed decision based on all the evidence available in a factually accurate and objective manner.
Critical reading and thinking skills are essential as identified in National Curriculum requirements. Secondary pupils in England and Wales, need to develop critical reading skills in order to examine how use of language in written content ‘presents meaning’. Pupils must also be taught to make ‘an informed personal response’ finding evidence for their point of view using skills of inference. They also need to recognise ‘other possible responses’ and evaluate these. Ref. 1
Children should not be passive consumers of information and believe all printed text is factually correct. This is a cornerstone in the education of a young person, which accords with the government’s Prevent agenda too. As the government guidance document warns, extremists are promoting disinformation and misinformation and so we need children and young people to be alert to such views. Otherwise they are at ‘increased vulnerability to radicalisation’ through propaganda. Teachers must “help develop their pupils’ critical thinking skills”. (Ref. 2).
It seems then, that the NC and the government’s advice on Teachers’ Prevent Duty are aligned on protecting children from propaganda (and in turn radicalisation) through developing their critical faculties.
So it is concerning that materials for classroom use (produced by The Stephen Hawking Foundation (attached) and Hackney Borough Council (attached), have been produced on the COVID-19 vaccine which do not appear to comply with these requirements. It is not the premise of this short article to provide a detailed analytical scrutiny of those materials; such critiques already exist (attached). However, I do want to draw attention to the most prominent examples of overt persuasion and poor quality teaching in these materials.
At the heart of the Stephen Hawking Foundation materials, there is a question, which I have grave concerns about. The question is, “Would you have a COVID vaccine to protect your family and friends?” These are my concerns:
It is a closed question requiring a simple yes or no answer and therefore represents poor practice in educational terms since It does not engage higher order thinking skills or require an evidence base to draw upon to justify the answer, .
The use of the terms ‘family and friends’ applies emotional leverage in a cynically persuasive manner similar to recognised propagandist materials. How can a child in a public learning environment answer ‘no’ to such a charged question? It could be deemed simply poor teaching at best or coercive control at worst.
There are no surrounding questions which ask the child to consider the alternative other possibilities that develop critical thinking or reading skills. These could have included: “In what ways is that an appropriate/inappropriate question to ask of a child. Consider all the possibilities.”
We teach a child to analyse and develop critical thinking and reading skills to identify an overly persuasive text, in order that they are not unduly influenced or coerced into actions that have not been fully thought through, using NC Programmes of Study and aligned with our duty on Prevent safeguarding issues. The only use of the Stephen Hawking Foundation materials that I can endorse is as an example of such persuasive texts we want to warn them about.
Those produced by Hackney Borough Council are similarly flawed and use leading questions with overly persuasive/coercive techniques. However, I will draw upon a different aspect of poor quality teaching with respect to these resources.
Teachers’ Standards need to be met to gain qualification to teach and to retain that qualification. They are produced by the Department for Education. Standard 3 relates to a teacher’s subject knowledge – a prerequisite for effective teaching and learning. The teacher must, “have a secure knowledge of the subject area”… and “demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum area and promote the value of scholarship”.
Sadly, there is little evidence of such secure subject knowledge or scholarship underpinning these materials. Again I list my concerns:
There is a conflation of traditional vaccines with this novel COVID-19 vaccine and therefore the definition of vaccine provided is inaccurate.
The use of routine vaccinations as relayed in the table is similarly inaccurate when presented alongside the COVID-19 vaccine, as the latter cannot under any circumstances be considered, at this point in time, routine.
The relevance of focusing on Polio to illustrate the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine, shows poor scholarship and research. There is no explanation of the higher risk to children from the former compared to the latter. This is misleading and could be disproportionately instilling fear in children. This further raises the issue of ethical conduct. Part Two of Teachers’ Standards states that, ‘Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, by …having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being’.
The diagrams representing spread of disease are crude and oversimplified. This is a resource designed for pupils up to the age of 18 years and shows a lack of teaching skill in attempting to convey those important messages to that older pupil audience.
Herd immunity is defined and is again, oversimplified and only partially correct. This once more reflects poor scholarship and research.
I cannot judge with certainty that a teacher using these materials would be failing in their statutory duties to provide a suitable and satisfactory education for their pupils. If they were used as examples of such texts that we should be warning pupils about, in that they contain misinformation and disinformation, as outlined in the government’s document ‘The Prevent Duty’ discussed above, then compliance with legal statute could form that judgement. I fear though, they are designed to persuade and coercively control children’s decisions on the vaccine. If that is the case, then they should be withdrawn from classroom use immediately.
Notice the document (below) re treating COVID denies as terrorist and teacher are to report parents of such behaviours. Overzealous would be putting it mildly when the mortality is so low. Read here.
References didn’t copy with correct numbers but in the right order.