DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
SCHOOLS, which restarted on Monday, are the big story in parents’ lives this week.
For children online, it can still be challenging to stay focused, and avoid chatting in a separate zoom or Google chat, or the temptation of video games. Some parents are not able or prepared to provide sufficient oversight. Maybe they are grieving from a covid19 death or depressed from job loss. It was also always a mystery how people were expected to go back to work while their children are home, or expected to both work well and parent well simultaneously.
So we can expect that there are those children with continuing periods of unsupervised internet access who are searching for pornography, answering questions they have about sex, and posting images of themselves inappropriate for adolescents.
Teenagers are on their devices and phones all the time, whether gaming, messaging, surfing or watching videos. The algorithms are an adolescent dopamine addiction we’ve normalised after all this isolation. We can expect that many lost out on extracurricular activities, including physical exercise, and that’s reinforced screen dependence at a crucial time in social, communication, emotional and brain development.
Some are still attending school from their beds, rather than a desk, or don’t have a proper quiet space to work, and are probably checking social media throughout classes, particularly when their cameras are not expected to be on. For tens of thousands of others, who are not consistently online or don’t have devices, there’s the well-documented and class-divisive effects on their school marks and future income. Will a nation of adults just accept that they will get left behind?
For those who have returned to school already, or just this week, did the Ministry of Education gather pre-opening data to understand how schools should respond to their surreal range of home realities and needs?
If we don’t ask these questions and don’t have an education response beyond back-to-academics, to what extent will the return to physical school be a stereotypical example of what and who is lost by business as usual? When it comes to schools, it’s key to think about the profile of the learner whom we picture either having returned to school or about to return in the next months. Is it the one who can best or least cope? What does transitioning such vulnerable students require?
Is this a student with family members killed by the pandemic? Is it one more vulnerable to witnessing or experiencing family conflict or household instability? We know that domestic violence reports rose in 2020 and remained high through 2021. Should students be told that these are expected issues and they can turn to teachers or guidance counsellors? Is initiating these conversations part of pandemic ministry policy?
Increased rates of grief, anxiety and depression among children are being reported by local psychologists. In the US, schools saw this in crying and disruptive behaviour, increased violence and bullying, and sadness and fear. We are better at paying attention to poverty and hunger, but our education system is poor at social-emotional skill-building, which is why our society is so poor at it as well. US schools also experienced a “river of referrals” for mental health services.
Globally, educators suggest making time to listen to students’ concerns, offering opportunities to reconnect one-to-one with educators. Before opening books and preparing for tests, recognise that some may have difficulty concentrating or returning to routine. That’s normal. Buffing or embarrassment won’t help. Maybe this student was being neglected or sexually abused at home.
Rather than just lecturing about covid19 protocols, also respond to fears and grief, providing age-appropriate tips for recognising and reducing trauma and anxiety. Reports are that children recover from the isolation better when schools take time to create connection, empathy and community. Finally, provide opportunities for playfulness and fun physical activity, which help students cope with life and stress, enabling them to actually learn.
Schools are the critical access point to children. The pandemic may have affected their attention, decision-making, how they learn and how they relate to others. It would have been great to see the ministry present a “return to school” social-emotional learning plan, explained with a proper communication strategy, and putting teachers and parents on the same page. Remember, the pandemic is not over and the world feels like a bizarre war zone where anyone could unintentionally kill anyone else in days or weeks. The school transition should recognise children as survivors of an unprecedented disaster who learn best when first guided to emotional well-being.
Diary of a mothering worker