With UK schools opening up this week after months of online learning, there has been some debate over whether students should be required to wear face masks in class or not. The government has recommended that secondary school pupils should wear masks for a temporary period of time until further assessments can be made. However, previously, some students only had to wear them in communal areas, whilst others not at all. Understandably, for some, this new change appears to be a source of contention.
Although many parents, teachers and school workers are supportive of the new guidelines, some parents have likened the enforcement of face masks to “child abuse”. Others have voiced concerns that students’ learning experiences may be impacted by the new rule as it sends the message that “the classroom is not safe”. It may also increase anxiety within some students and affect communication. The campaign group UsForThem, who are also against mandatory face masks, have raised the point that we are unaware of the long-term effects of wearing face masks on brain development, educational attainment, communication and children’s overall physical and mental health.
On the other hand, according to the World Health Organization and the government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that there will be issues to children’s development in the long run. Many believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Some teachers have also suggested that the use of face masks may actually build confidence amongst parents, teachers and students. Additionally, if any students struggle with prolonged mask wearing, individual solutions can be made for children that may be unable to adhere to the guidelines due to a health condition or disability.
Ultimately, both perspectives offer valuable insights into the wellbeing of children, but many just want to achieve normalcy as soon as possible, and mask wearing may just be the quickest way to achieve that. As one student expressed: “I just want to be back now, and I know my friends all feel the same. I can’t wait.”