COVID-19’s Impact on Children’s Learning: Possible Alternatives

By Sultan Alam
Senior Instructor, Aga Khan University,
Professional Development Center North (PDCN), Gilgit

It is quite evident that COVID-19 has become a pandemic, encircling almost all parts of the world. Though this contagious disease has attacked human health as its’ first victim but the consequences have been felt around all walks of life. None of the life corners (economic, social, political, and environment) could escape by its negative implications so far. Education, particularly the schools have been the targets of this crisis, affecting around 1.8 billion young children worldwide.

To combat with this crisis, majority of the countries have decided not to open the schools till the conditions become favorable for learning. Such situation has confined the students at their homes or within the surrounding. This long-lasting stay at homes have created a direct impact on students’ learning, growth and other needful skills which are otherwise achieved through direct contact with the teachers, and within school boundaries. The short-term disruption is also felt by parents and other family members, as it also seems to have negative effects on social lives too.

Schools are one of the most effective, operational and inspirational platforms to improve various skills among the children. Besides various social and learning parameters, they provide an improved platform for the learners to spend their time in fun and other health-related activities. These all activities develop a learner into much stronger individual with regard to improved abilities and skills. Various psychologists and educationist witnessed that even missing a single day by child will have negative implications on their growth. Therefore, we can easily imagine that how much do this long-lasting stay has developed negative implications on children growth.

Under current situation, children being confined to homes may produce certain inspirational moments, certain angry moments, fun and frustrations sometimes. It seems unlikely to replace the learning at schools with this prolonged confinement. Homes do not possess the needful resources accessed in schools, nor are parents competent enough to teach their children in a way that teachers do at schools. Moreover, parents do not possess certain content and teaching methodologies to facilitate learning at their homes. Consequently, the learners become incompetently developed, portraying insignificant skills, mingled with other growth-related issues.

Although, seemingly the nature of COVID-19 transmission rate, the decision of closing schools and adopting protective measures are absolutely recommendable and vital, but prolonged stay at homes can, as by product, show negative consequences on children’s physical and mental health too. Various evidences in this regard show that when children are out of school for even weeks or summer and winter holidays, they become physically less active. Their sleeping patterns are changed, dietary routines are altered, increase in weight and fitness becomes weaker. So, it is quite evident the children long-lasting stays will ultimately develop these negative impacts on their physical and mental health.

One of the most important, yet neglected issue is psychological impact on children while they remain confined to homes. Children develop stress because of fear of being infected, bored, miss their friends, classmates and teachers and unable to find their spaces of choice. These all dislocations disrupt the routine practices of children and they face difficulty in readjusting themselves to new circumstances.

The COVID-19 has not only shown negative implications on learning aptitudes, it has also affected the assessment (one of the major tools to monitor learning) of children learning. In most parts of the world, the assessment tests and other exams have been cancelled, deferred or postponed. Internal assessments are perhaps thought to be less important and many have been simply cancelled, but providing information about the child’s progress for families and teachers is at stake. The loss of this information delays the recognition of both high potential and learning difficulties and can have harmful long-term consequences for the child. The prevailing situation is quite clearer. Under such circumstances, the question arises that how can we play our part to handle this critical situation?

At first hand, all the stakeholders including the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the community, school, and parents need to be aware of the downside of the situation and do more to effectively address these issues immediately. The experiences acquired by earlier COVID-hit countries can be multiplied to address the prevailing situation in most of the countries.

In Pakistan, particularly in Gilgit-Baltistan, there is need to develop operational plans on raising awareness of potential physical and mental health impacts of home confinement during this unusual period. For that certain principles and guidelines can be developed and shared, using appropriate media. Online applicable learning programs can be introduced to ensure that the contents of the courses meet the educational standards and requirements. It is important to consider that these online courses should not serve as stressors, rather they become fun and source of learning for students, confined at homes. In addition, to innovative courses for a better learning experience, the teachers can develop age-appropriate and attractive promotional videos to motivate children towards healthy lifestyle, and improved hygienic context-specific practices. Similarly, for assessment, the traditional assessment processes can be replaced by online technological assessment tools.

Communities can serve as a valuable resource in managing difficulties of family matters. In Gilgit-Baltistan, there is an inbuilt mechanism of community’s involvement in schools. Local Level Institutions (LLIs) in the form of SMCs, MSGs, VECs and PTAs play their active roles in almost all corners of GB. These parents’ committees can work together to bridge the needs of students with school requirements and to advocate for healthy life styles at homes and society. In the same line, social workers can play an active role in helping parents cope with family issues arising from the situation, when needed.

Schools, currently trying to deliver educational resources to children through teachers, is an opportunity for students to interact with teachers and obtain psychological counselling. To serve better, schools can develop contextually-applicable resource guides to promote a health conscious schedule, good personal hygiene practices, encourage physical activities, appropriate diet, and good sleep patterns. Currently, parents are the closest and best resources to interact. Hence, parents can provide enlightened opportunities and communication to hear their children voices. Such supportive initiatives can help children to reduced stress and other physical and psychological disorders. Besides supporting and monitoring child performance and behaviour, parents also need to respect their identity and needs, and they need to help children develop self-discipline skills.

Through various media resources, children are constantly being exposed to current crisis news, ultimately gain further stress and anxiety. To alleviate their anxiety, parents can have direct conversations with their children about these issues and encourage to apply safety measures regularly. Hence, on one hand, the current crisis has shown a negative impact on children learning, psychological disorders and health perspectives, it also offers a good opportunity to enhance the interaction between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve their self-sufficiency skills. It also opens various windows to rethink about alternatives for continuation of day-to-day activities. Children are vulnerable to environmental risks and their physical health, mental health, and productivity in adult life is deeply rooted in early years. Therefore, a close attention and great efforts are required to address these emergency issues effectively and saving them from long-term career consequences. To conclude, it is the utmost responsibility of all the stakeholders to ensure that the physical, psychological and mental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and adolescents are kept minimal to develop a healthy nation.

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