Moin isn’t excited about going to school the way he was a month ago when it reopened in September. To him, the school’s reopening meant he was finally free from the confines of his home after months, and could play and hangout with his friends.

But things turned out to be very different from what he had experienced before at school – much like how 2020 turned out to be a year like no other in the living memory of people or in the pages of history books.

Now Moin doesn’t want to go to school when his mother wakes him up in the morning. Now his father drops him at school, unlike before when he went in his school van with his friends. Yes, he knows it is for the best of everyone involved to not travel in a crowded vehicle with many others. And once inside the school, there is no fun either.

The teachers don’t let the children sit too close in the class, or play together in the playground during recess. They all eat their lunches at their desks. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, they would huddle together outside the classroom, sitting on one of the benches near the handball court while sharing their lunch. And what is worst is that now their class has been split into two groups, with each coming on alternate days, and Moin’s best friend, Saad, is in the other group so they don’t meet.

Wearing a mask all day is a tough task for Moin and his classmates, especially now that the weather has become so hot. And the teacher’s lecture sometimes becomes difficult to hear since all teachers also have to wear a mask all the time.

Moin is not alone in having conflicting emotions regarding school these days, there are so many other children who are facing the same problems because of the strict SOPs that need to be followed at school to prevent the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus in schools and educational institutions that have reopened. The school management, teachers, parents and children are all trying to manage things under a new normal where the more precautions there are, the better for everyone.

Many children who have the option to continue with online classes exclusively are staying home and they too are facing a different set of problems with studies. So what is one to do in the current scenario?

Moin’s grandfather was able to offer him some motivating insights which lifted his spirits and helped him face the difficult reality we are all living in now in 2020.

When Moin was feeling down one Sunday evening and wasn’t packing his bag for school like his mother was telling him to, his grandfather, who was watching the news nearby, called the boy to him.

“Okay, my son. Now tell me why you have such a sad face and why are you giving your mother trouble?” the grandfather asked as he put his arm around Moin.

“Nothing, I don’t just don’t want to go to school. Why can’t we just have online classes like before?” Moin burst out.

“Well, we have to follow the timetable given by your school, don’t we? They have called you to school on alternate days so you have to go then. And when there are online classes, you are taking those too. So what is the problem in that? Why don’t you want to go to school?” grandfather asked.

“I hate being at school. If you had to wear a mask all day in this heat then you will also hate it! Even if we take it off for a minute, the teacher scolds us. We can’t play together or sit together as there is always someone around to tell us to be six feet apart! Isn’t that totally crazy? What is the use of being with friends if we can’t be together? There are no PE lessons or football games. We don’t go to the computer lab either. Oh, there is just so much that I don’t like about school now that I could just go on and on!” Moin let out his pent up frustration.

“Humm, I get it now. Yes, you are absolutely right, it is so difficult to wear a mask for hours. Your teachers and school staff also wear a mask, don’t they?” grandfather enquired as he sympathised with Moin.

“Yes, everyone wears it.”

“So it must be tough for them too. Do you know Aunty Sarah, who is a doctor, has to wear not just a mask, but a very heavy personal protective equipment, or PPE, when she has her duty in the Covid-19 ward. This is to make sure she doesn’t get exposed to the coronavirus, which is very contagious. But she is being brave and putting up with all the discomfort just to save the lives of others.

“On the other hand, you and I, we just have to wear a simple mask when we are outside with other people, and it is to keep ourselves safe. But even then we are not happy about doing something that is for our own benefit,” grandfather explained.

“Yes, I know masks are important grandpa, but there are also so many other things we are being stopped from doing at school that I don’t like! It is better not to go to school altogether than go and not do things like we did before!” a disheartened Moin asserted.

“Well my child, do you realise that going to school is a privilege that many children around the world are deprived of? Do you know many children in Palestine go to school every day while there are bullets being fired around them and enemy soldiers harass them, sometimes preventing them from reaching school. And yet, the next day they are up again and ready to go to school.

“And children in other places where there is civil war and unrest, there are no schools for children to go to. In fact, people can’t even go out to get things for their need and they stay in their ruined homes without any electricity and water.

“For many refugee children, such as the Rohingya refugees who are in crowded camps in Bangladesh, they hardly have a bed to sleep on and they live on donated meals. Sometimes, volunteers conduct some activities for those children and distribute some books and this makes them so happy.

“Just ask any of those children what they would give to go to a school like the one you are going to ....” grandfather concluded this softly and let the message sink in.

Moin was quiet for some time, then the guilt on his face turned into a smile as he looked at his grandfather and said, “I knew it. I knew you would say something that would make me feel like the luckiest kid in the world. You always seem to make all the worries go away and find solutions to problems. How do you do it grandpa?”

Grandpa laughed at this and explained, “That’s because I have experienced a lot of things and I know that there is always a solution, even to the biggest problem you may be having. All you need to do is change the way of looking at things and then you will start to value what you have and not worry about what you can’t have.

“Now, hurry up, and go and pack your bag like your mother said. And don’t forget to keep your mask too,” grandpa patted Moin on his head as he left, happier than he was when he had sat down earlier.

So children, you see how lucky you are to have a chance at education, whatever shape it is coming to you in right now. There are so many children who wish to have access to all that you have, including a chance to study, but they are deprived due to their circumstances. You should make full use of the privileges you have, which you take for granted most of the time, and work hard to make this world a better place for everyone — and stay safe to stop the spread of this virus until our doctors find a cure and vaccine for it.

Published in Dawn, Young World, October 17th, 2020