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Anne Hailes: Anita Robinson's likes will not be seen again

Much loved Irish News columnist Anita Robinson died last week after a short illness.

WHAT sad news last week with the unexpected death of Anita Robinson, a much loved columnist with this newspaper.

Tributes have continued to come from all arts and parts, such was her popularity.

One from fellow storyteller Liz Weir who first met Anita in Derry when Liz was storyteller-in-residence with the Verbal Arts Centre in the city.

"Anita was appointed teacher-in-residence after her retirement from the classroom," recalled Liz.

"She was a gifted teacher who inspired many young minds and a fabulous writer whose acerbic wit and sense of irony was second to none.

"She worked with many teachers for the Pushkin Trust and we travelled to Russia, taking teenagers from both sides of the border.

"As a friend she was warm, generous, full of fun and a joy to have in my life.

"I will miss hearing her voice doing Thought for the Day and reading her weekly column.

"Her likes will not be seen again."

I send sympathies and prayers to her daughter Sarah and her family.

Making Up Time

Apparently school holidays could be cut so pupils will have the chance to catch up on their education.

Fewer long lazy days of summer to look forward to, just more book learning, projects and homework. Not a pleasant thought.

Thousands of children have had their young lives turned upside down over the last months.

Charlie is just 13 and he had just started secondary school when the Covid-19 disruption began; no-one really anticipated what lay ahead - children being sent home when one of them or a teacher tested positive, parents having to rearrange their lives to look after them, schools having to design programmes for home tuition and the dedication required by pupils to take advantage of these.

As if this wasn't enough, Charlie and many of his friends suddenly had to cope with a Covid diagnosis.

"One of my friends got it and before I was going to a party I had a test and that's how we knew."

This led to linking into online streaming lessons which required self-discipline - and that isn't easy at any age.

Many found their iPads essential, Google helping with research, sometimes to be corrected by the teacher when face-to-face learning was possible.

Some boys and girls have confessed to telling their teacher that the laptop camera was broken in order to skive off and do other things. We called it 'mitching' in my day.

Charlie was vigilant because he's interested in the subjects he's studying but he did admit he lost out on one thing - his love of sport and all the camaraderie that goes with it.

Getting to grip with the challenges of remote learning has been one of the many disrupting factors to children's education during the pandemic.

Teenage Trauma

For 17-year-old Dan it was preparing for exams with mixed results because of the disruption and the difficulty of focusing on home study.

"Having not done very well now, I realise the importance of studying," he says.

"Being in school was better because there are too many distractions at home with the Xbox sitting looking at me."

Others loved lockdown because they developed friendships over social media and made new friends, meeting them for the first time now that rules have been relaxed.

Girls have been very conscious of keeping in shape with exercises, weights, walking and cycling.

Common is the disruption of a school schedule - getting up at a certain time to get to class on time, breaks for lunch, home again, homework and then the rest of the evening to do whatever.

This lack of shape to the day has led to a chaotic sleep pattern. One boy I talked to actually fell asleep during lessons and woke up just as the class was dismissed: "I failed that exam but geography wasn't of interest to me anyway."

Dan was unfortunate, he contracted a bad case of Covid.

"It was terrible, I was so tired and ill, I isolated for 10 days, just lying in bed and Mum leaving food at the door. I couldn't do anything, I even thought it might be the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse.

"In a way I still wonder, I am so aware I could get it again and pass it on especially to my grandparents - scary."

And what of students in universities and colleges?

Interesting that one I talked to had the mix of university and IT placement. This should be a stimulating time getting out into the world of business, experiencing the work place and interaction with staff and clients, an essential experience in normal times.

For 23-year-old Jonny most of his year-out during a four-year degree, was spent sitting in student accommodation at a laptop only talking to his supervisor by Zoom.

"I never met anyone from the office, everything was conducted on screen from 9am until 5pm. It affected my sleep badly, I had no sleep pattern, it just didn't work. I think my mental health was affected too, I felt time was slipping through my fingers through no fault of my own."

Like so many others he turned to indoor sport and favoured weight lifting to expend his energies. On the plus side he felt remote working developed his independence.

"But as a young person I wanted the office experience. I thought it would make me feel like an adult."

Going back to university was, he says, a culture shock, a good feeling but always the looming threat of another lockdown.

"I relish meeting up with a bunch of friends and partying again and face-to-face learning, lectures and tutorials, with classmates and a tutor.

"I've had my jabs and I'm young so I don't think there is a danger to me.

"You have to stay optimistic at times like this although sometime it's difficult with the great weight of the news.

"Any sensational news seems to be negative so you need to stay on top of it - you need to detox."

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