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Consequences of COVID

The effects of the COVID-19 crisis are still being experienced in different areas of our lives, and this is no different in schools.  Long periods of closure and restrictive measures have had a negative impact on various informal and formal communities, which in many cases have still not been restored to their pre-pandemic forms. Our field research raised the question of the impact of the above-described processes on parent-teacher relationships and school communities. In the following, we seek to address this question, based on information gathered through interviews and participant observation during our fieldwork. 

Interviews with both parents and teachers revealed that one of the main forms of contact between teachers and parents was through spontaneous conversations during before- or after-school hours. This is particularly true for marginalised Roma parents in difficult financial circumstances who work from early morning until late afternoon, as they are often absent from parent-teacher conferences and other school activities, due to work or other reasons, and for whom these morning and afternoon encounters are crucial. One of the head teachers, who used to work in a segregated school in a rural village, said that over a long period of time they had managed to establish a system that was clear and acceptable to parents, whereby if they brought their children to school before 8am, they had the opportunity to consult with the head teacher and the child’s other teachers. The school’s efforts have been successful. Parents have regularly taken advantage of this opportunity and an acceptable and accessible form of contact has been established.  Both parents and teachers reported that school closures or restrictions during the pandemic had a particularly negative impact on these meetings. Children typically had to be dropped off at the school gate and picked up in the afternoon at the same location. There are some schools where this practice persists to this day. In addition, previously established practices are difficult to re-establish. In many cases, connections are more difficult to make, although there were also schools that made a conscious effort to communicate to parents that the school gates were open to parents again.  

The other personal parent-teacher contact was the family visit before the pandemic outbreak. This form of contact was more common in rural schools; in urban schools, teachers reported that they had not visited families for a long time, except when there were serious child protection or other concerns. During the pandemic crisis, this form of contact was of course not feasible either, the worst affected being the most disadvantaged children. They were the ones who had little or no access to digital education and were almost completely out of sight of schools during COVID. Fortunately, some rural schools have resumed family visits, but there were interviewees who reported that schools had not yet resumed family visits.  

The pandemic has not only affected interpersonal connections between individuals, but also the communities within schools. For example, in the Budapest school where our field research took place, members of the school’s SZMK (Parents’ Working Group) also reported that the group’s activity had declined since the outbreak, one reason being the prolonged closure of schools and drop-outs due to restrictions.  

Nevertheless, the unique circumstances brought about by COVID, such as digital education, have also had a positive impact on the relationship between parents and schools. During the fieldwork, we found that the role of social media in parent-teacher communication has been enhanced, providing space for a wide range of parents to engage in the discourse on schools, and creating new opportunities and platforms for parent-teacher communication.  

Another significant positive impact of the specific situations brought about by COVID is that new arenas and roles have been created in the relationship between teachers, parents and students. Teachers and social workers working in schools spoke enthusiastically about their charitable work during COVID. From organising daily meals for children in need to delivering tablets to families in extreme poverty in the middle of the pandemic to connecting children to digital education. Occasionally one-way teacher-student relationships have become multi-directional. Schools could become more aware of and closer to social challenges and different individual circumstances. It has become clear that there are other basic conditions for education to be effective, in addition to factors within institutions. Social care and the realisation of different social situations could play an important role in building a trust-based relationship between parents and schools, which could have long-term effects.  

Overall, COVID had a negative impact on all forms of contact and community organisation that require personal presence. The process discussed above has had the most adverse impact on the development and maintenance of trusting relationships between parents of the most disadvantaged Roma children and teachers and, consequently, their connection to their school community. Nonetheless, it can also be said that new doors have been opened in parent-teacher relations, and people have been able to get to know each other in new situations and settings, which will certainly have positive implications for the future.