Teach understanding, not rules

I recently had cause to visit a close relative in a care home. We had to go round the back. On going through the gate, we were presented with plastic overalls, gloves and mask. Our ‘meeting’ was outside in the garden. Later, when viewing a retirement apartment on her behalf, we not only had to wear gloves but sanitise the gloves themselves.

Quite how overalls or gloves make any difference in a non-clinical setting is beyond me, but the care home and staff, probably on minimum wages, are simply following their interpretation of the rules. On meeting my relative, who has already had Covid-19 and been through a traumatic 6 months including the loss of her husband of 62 years, she leapt up and hugged us which was quite impossible to stop. There was no hand or face contact and we turned our faces away.

I often see people wearing gloves as they walk to and inside the supermarket, handle lots of items before putting them in the bags and walking back out again. How are the gloves making any difference? Presumably, they unpack their shopping before 72 hours has passed. Wouldn’t they better hand sanitising before and after their shopping trip, and ditching the plastic?

If we taught an understanding of how Covid (or anything else) is transmitted, rather than spouting rules, often inconsistently, perhaps not only would we be safer, but we wouldn’t accidentally create many new problems too. We’d keep our distance, wear masks in closed spaces, and keep washing our hands. We wouldn’t wear masks when driving alone!

The explosion in use of PPE is creating huge plastic pollution problems which will in time cause far more life-threatening problems than Covid-19. Today’s Guardian has an article on this, a good example of how instead of blindly following rules we need to learn to risk assess and make better decisions.

It could indeed be argued that the lack of a hug for my relative, given her overall situation and her already having had the virus, would have been a far greater long term risk to her health. Loneliness and depression, especially at her age, can lead to undernourishment, lack of self care and mental deterioration.

If we teach rules, there is a high chance of misunderstanding even in the right context. In the wrong context, the application of misunderstood rules can create more problems than it solves, and can even be dangerous. At SafeWise we don’t ask children what colour means it is safe to cross the road, because it depends on where ‘green’ is, and drivers sometimes miss the red. Instead we’d ask ‘how do you know when it is safe to cross? – forcing a risk assessment by the child rather than remembering a rule.

Our exciting VR project will be all about this, presenting dilemmas in an immersive environment, and challenging learners to risk assess the situation and learn from mistakes. This learning will be applicable in different contexts and not only the one they experienced. We will be teaching understanding, not rules.