When logging into Google Classroom this morning, downloading my children’s schoolwork and watching them chat with their teacher and classmates, it made me think. While this is certainly challenging now, how different would it have been if COVID-19 had struck whilst I was at primary school in the mid-80s?
Work-wise everything would have come to a standstill. Desktop computers were in their infancy, email and the internet were years away and mobile phones were the size of house bricks. Written communication was still very much of the printed variety and the thought of being able to work from home was the stuff of science fiction. It would have been impossible for work to continue like it has today and the impact would have been immense. Any company that relied on workers in offices would have seen productivity reduced to 0.
As I’m currently home-schooling two primary school children, this is an area that I have experience of. Both see their teacher and classmates twice a day on a group call, have a variety of tasks set for them with videos, games and numerous other interactive programmes to help them learn. While it is in no way the same as being in school, it is pretty close. They hand in work, it gets marked and they are actually being taught by their teachers, even though they aren’t in the same room. It’s amazing, and the less I have to get involved with teaching fractions the better!
Home school would have been almost impossible in the 80s. Even if work could be set by teachers, the logistics of collating, printing and distributing it would have been beyond the capabilities of most schools. Everything would have been paper-based with written instructions. Having seen how my two engage with their work, it’s clear to see that the more interactive nature of video calls, video and e-learning is a much more effective and engaging way of teaching.
Being confined to your house isn’t what most people would choose. However, at the current time, we don’t physically have to leave our house for many reasons. We can have most things we need delivered to our door, from food and medicine to what feels like any obscure product under the sun via online shopping. Rollback to the 80s and I can remember accompanying my mum on shopping trips which involved visiting the butchers, bakers, and greengrocers, a trip to the supermarket was a rare occurrence. Lockdown in the 80s would have seen more people out and about and in the shops. Shutting all but the essential shops would have cut most people off from any other items they might need, especially as supermarkets of the 80s mainly sold just food and hadn’t diversified their product range as they have today. Although getting food delivered to your door wasn’t a totally alien concept, the trusty milkman being commonplace, perhaps they would have expanded their product offering.
In the 80s we were limited to 4 TV channels and come midnight TV stopped. When I try to explain to my children that I was limited to an hour or so of children’s TV a day and that you had to watch what was on and couldn’t pause, rewind or fast forward it, they look at me dumbfounded. From being able to stream any TV show or film at the click of a button to having a multitude of games available on their tablets they are the generation that is used to today’s endless choice of entertainment options.
Even more traditional forms of entertainment such as reading would have been shut off during an 80’s lockdown. Books had to be bought from a shop or borrowed from a library, both of which would have been shut. There was not the possibility of downloading the latest blockbuster to read on your Kindle. Talking of Blockbuster, even renting a film would have been hard as they didn’t open their first UK store until 1989.
As I am typing this my daughter is chatting away on a video call to her friend and I’ve just had a reminder pop up for a wine and chat zoom call with my friends this evening. Although I’ve not physically seen most of my friends for over a year, thanks to technology I’ve seen and spoken to them, and via social media kept up to date with their daily goings-on. It’s not the same, but it helps.
I can only imagine how isolating an 80s lockdown would have been. Shut away in our respective houses, communication with friends and family would have been limited to phone calls and posted letters. It is feasible that people could have gone a whole year without seeing the faces of their loved ones.
There is obviously never a good time for a global pandemic, and it has had a massive impact on our daily lives. However, if this had happened 30+ years ago, before the technological advancements of the past few decades how different it would have been. The impact could have been even more damaging.