Irreconcilable generational conflict is the new struggle of humanity

The pandemic has changed the world, not least in disrupting the lives of young people stuck at home from school, where they not only gain knowledge but also practise the norms of social behaviour. Now that they are back in school, these children who lack social experiences are acting up by engaging in disruptive behaviour in class. Commentator Chip Tsao feels that there is no way back as the gap between the generations widens.
Children sit in a classroom on their first day of school at Heath Mount, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Watton at Stone, the UK, on 3 September 2020. (Andrew Couldridge/Reuters)
Children sit in a classroom on their first day of school at Heath Mount, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Watton at Stone, the UK, on 3 September 2020. (Andrew Couldridge/Reuters)

Following the pandemic, an entire generation around the world may no longer be able to go back to the pre-pandemic human psyche.

The disaster wrought by this virus said to have originated from a laboratory has not only caused global economic losses, a significant side effect is the irrevocable change of focus and curiosity of the next generation in learning new things.

Need for re-education

A recent survey in the UK shows that when schools were closed during the pandemic, the young children and primary school students stuck at home lacked essential socialisation. When they returned to school after the pandemic, many of them had become little monsters. They did not pay attention, disrupted classes, ignored the teachers’ instructions and disobeyed school rules.

Following the pandemic, some education experts in the UK believe that students must be re-educated in a firmer way to reestablish discipline and learn to follow the rules, and relearn the behaviours of normal social life.

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Young people in Trafalgar Square, London, on 3 May 2023. (Photo: Candice Chan)

Statistics show that 42% of British teachers believe that students are harder to teach now compared with before the pandemic; 67% felt that students are more negative and defiant, challenging the teachers’ authority; 64% felt that students are more likely to talk back, walk out of class when reprimanded and engage in passive non-compliance.

Unexcused absences and truancy have become challenging to track. School rules and enforcement of discipline by teachers in the classroom are no longer effective.

Following the pandemic, some education experts in the UK believe that students must be re-educated in a firmer way to reestablish discipline and learn to follow the rules, and relearn the behaviours of normal social life. But even achieving this will take time.

... going back to the semi-military style of private schools in pre-World War II Britain, including corporal punishment, is akin to asking the Chinese to return to Qing dynasty practices of beheading and torture as forms of punishment.

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This is not just a problem in the UK; it is a global issue. In this photo taken on 28 August 2023, students sit in a class at a primary school in Zhangye city, in China’s northwest Gansu province. (AFP)

However, given the emphasis on child protection and the various liberal ethical standards aimed at preventing violence in the UK — along with the prevalence of depression among young children, and their introverted minds, inflated self-image and rejection of external information — going back to the semi-military style of private schools in pre-World War II Britain, including corporal punishment, is akin to asking the Chinese to return to Qing dynasty practices of beheading and torture as forms of punishment.

In China, even though the death penalty still exists, it has been “civilised” with methods such as firing squad and lethal injection, and executions are no longer carried out publicly.

‘Boomers’ versus ‘slackers’

UK government data indicate that in the 2021 academic year, nearly 580,000 students across the country were suspended due to poor behaviour, more than 50% increase from about 350,000 in 2020. Home education is equally ineffective. The emergence of TikTok has added excitement to the post-pandemic, introverted lives of British children, thus stupefying them.

The Conservative government’s Department of Education has no solution to these problems. It can only increase funding, allocating 10 million pounds (US$12.1 million) to 700 schools to improve student behaviour.

... in the post-pandemic world, where order has collapsed and values have deteriorated, the next generation has become a completely new breed of digital-era human. This is not just a problem in the UK; it is a global issue.

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Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech to students of a school in north London, during a visit, on 16 October 2023. (Jonathan Buckmaster/AFP)

Another approach is to identify and cultivate elite students, and provide them with leadership training to instil a sense of social responsibility, in the hope that they will indirectly help manage and positively influence other students in the same class.

Funds will go towards hiring mentors, so that adult professionals and elites can impart life wisdom to the students on a one-on-one basis. However, in the post-pandemic world, where order has collapsed and values have deteriorated, the next generation has become a completely new breed of digital-era human.

This is not just a problem in the UK; it is a global issue. Every country in the world now has practically the same two political parties: one for older persons and the other for the young people of the online digital era. Indeed, they refer to each other as “boomers” and “slackers”.

The class conflict that Karl Marx advocated has now become an irreconcilable generational conflict, while Western countries lack thinkers to seriously address this new 21st-century struggle of humanity.

This article was first published in Chinese on CUP media as "不止巴勒斯坦,人類的下一代再也回不去了".

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