THE SERVANT GENERAL
A PERSPECTIVE ON COVID-19
The government of New South Wales, Australia, and the Catholic
leadership have both opposed the closing of schools. This
is a refreshing break from the panic, and even hysteria, of
the world in instituting lockdowns and effectively shutting
down society. As I have said, we must consider that the cure
could be worse than the disease.
We are already seeing the economic impact of lockdowns. Daily
wage earners are not earning. Businesses are shutting down.
Economic activity is grinding to a halt. Life is on hold.
When these happen, it can become devastating. What could come
next? There can be riots, break-ins to stores and homes, robberies,
or worse. There would be societal chaos.
We of course should be prudent and cautious. Perhaps if there
is really a need to lock down, then let that be done. But
let us not go overboard. Let us look to the right balance
This is especially the case with our Catholic Church. Our
bishops should not be quick to cancel Masses and lock down
churches. They should not just look to the secular wisdom
of the world but look to the inscrutable wisdom of God. Even
Slovakia, a Central European country with a population of
5.4 million, of which 75% are Catholic, with only 124 COVID-19
infections and no deaths, has cancelled all Masses, liturgies
and ecclesial services. This makes no sense to me.
In a time of mass hysteria, let there be no hysteria as to
Masses. In a time of mass illnesses, let us look to the healing
qualities of the Mass. In a time of shut downs, let our churches
be opened up.
God bless and protect you all.
steps in to stop Catholic school closures across NSW
The country's most senior archbishop has blocked a plan by
the state's 11 Catholic dioceses to defy government policy
and close their schools.
The three school sectors' hard-won consensus to keep NSW schools
open was on the verge of collapse before Prime Minister Scott
Morrison and Education Minister Dan Tehan rang Sydney Archbishop
Anthony Fisher on Wednesday to ask him to intervene.
But the federal government is "very disappointed"
in the growing number of independent schools that have bowed
to intense parental pressure and shut down campuses.
Mr Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian both insisted
on Wednesday that schools should remain open for the "foreseeable
future", saying a prolonged,
premature closure was unlikely to stop the spread of COVID-19
and could make it worse, while devastating the economy.
There is a view among senior education officials that if
major schools or systems close,the pressure to shut down the
public system would be overwhelming.
On Wednesday, Newington College’s senior campus shut
for 24 hours after a staff member had contact with someone
who tested positive.
The Sydney diocese went public with a plea for all schools
to close on Tuesday, but several senior sources told the Herald
that Catholic Schools NSW, which represents the education
directors of 11 dioceses, was at the same time approaching
the state government about a total shutdown of its schools.
The federal ministers contacted the bishop on Wednesday morning.
Soon afterwards, Bishop Fisher wrote to NSW Catholic School
bosses backing the governments’ stance, and saying the
federal ministers had been “very disappointed”
by decisions by some of the non-Catholic independent schools
to pre-emptively close.
“And, by implication, [disappointed] with some of the
actions or public statements of some in our own sector,”
he wrote in a letter obtained by the Herald. “The
government asks us to work together, collectively to seek
the best medical advice, to help preserve calm, and to help
it in its best efforts to address this public health emergency.
“It is the view of bishops presently here in Sydney
for a meeting of the permanent committee that we should notbreak
ranks with our Commonwealth and state governments and their
chief medical officers on this.”
In a press conference after his call to Bishop Fisher, Mr
Morrison warned the impact of
school closures on the economy and productivity would be severe.“What
do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost,
if not more,” he said.
Some independent schools are breaking ranks, although there
are still fewer in NSW than Victoria. On Wednesday, Sydney
school Kambala joined them by announcing it would bring kindergarten
to year 10 fully online from Monday, closing its physical
Moriah College in Queens Park will also put its lessons online,
as will Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon for all students
except year 12.
Ms Berejiklian rebuked those schools. “We would prefer
that everybody is absolutely on the same page when it comes
to all the stakeholders in education,” she said. Most
were, although “there are some, very few, that do not.
But there is no rationale for closing down schools.”
Most independent school heads are sticking to government advice
despite intense parental pressure. Independent and Catholic
schools run their own operations, but they receive 80 per
cent of their public funding from the federal government.
In a long email to parents, Queenwood head Elizabeth Stone
said there was no evidence a
closure would stop the spread of COVID-19 unless it was accompanied
by a full social lockdown, which might be
considered in coming months.
Any such lockdown would not be sustainable for six months,
which is the predicted length of the first wave of infections.
“Half measures could increase the risk to the public
while full measures can only be sustained for a short time
– and therefore should be deployed when it will make
the greatest difference,”Ms Stone wrote. “Is now
that time? I do not believe so.”
Closing schools and putting classes online
sounds easy, but it brings new problems
the debate rages over school closures – with anxious
parents and some healthcare workers calling for them to be
shut, and the government saying they should be kept open -
many are calling for classes to go online.
Some private schools are already swapping their physical campuses
for virtual ones, and two Catholic systems in Sydney want
to follow. Putting classes online now sounds like an easy
solution to a difficult dilemma. But it brings another set
There is no question that online and remote learning will
be important during this crisis. Some form of closure is considered
by many to be inevitable as the peak of infections approaches.
The more optimistic believe schools are unlikely to reopen
after the Easter holidays.
But health experts are adamant that schools do not need to
close yet, and closing them
prematurely could aid the spread of the disease.
And they say if campuses are shut down early because of parental
pressure rather than expert advice, they could be closed for
While high-fee private schools can invest in sophisticated
online learning platforms to keep teaching over that time,
many less well-off students would not be able to learn from
home because they cannot access a computer, and do not have
A principal told the Herald that some of his year 11 and 12
students' only personal device was their mobile phone, and
their only connection to the internet was via their mobile
data. "It's a major equity issue," said another
One education official said the more remarked-upon perks offered
by private schools - pools, gyms, orchestra pits - would pale
in comparison with the advantages access to high-quality technology
will give their students over those without.
Disadvantaged students will face other problems, too. Many
come from families that speak little English, so their parents
will struggle to help them with their work.
Others are from families with little education - some children
arrive at school having never seen a book - so they too can
count on little support. Self-motivated students, or those
whose families are educated or value education, would be heavily
advantaged over those that need a nudge.
Some students will have no supervision, because their parents
must work. Or they will be left with grandparents, who are
most vulnerable to COVID-19. Or they will be left alone.
Many students access key services through school. Some are
fed there, or go there to access important health services
such as psychologists. School provides stability, care and
support for many kids who desperately need those things.
All these issues are front of mind for those grappling with
the question of whether to put classes online. Private school
principals are aware, too, that if they all go online before
the government says it's necessary, the pressure on the public
system to follow will be immense.
Protracted online learning will also be a challenge for parents
of children in early primary school, when kids are still learning
Continuing their learning will require heavy parental involvement,
which will be difficult if parents also need to work. Some
parents might make terrific teachers, others will make crotchety,
frustrated ones, especially as the months tick on.
There are potential child protection issues, too. NSW Premier
Gladys Berejiklian has warned there is a "dark tunnel"
Psychologists worry that parents and students alike will be
lonely, bored and worried. Social media will help connect
us, but it has its own dangers. Depression and anxiety will
make us irritable. Students will suffer those hardships, and
many will also bear the brunt of them.
Some have suggested a hybrid model, in which families would
have a choice between keeping kids home and learning remotely.
But running remote and face-to-face lessons simultaneously
is resource intensive and logistically difficult, particularly
for the public system.
"Staff can most certainly place work on our platforms,
but they cannot both teach classes and teach remotely simultaneously,
as this would be logistically impossible," said St Andrew's
Cathedral School head John Collier in a letter to parents.
* * *