Back to School

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Post-Covid Classrooms, How to Overcome the Challenge

By Wasim Kakroo

COVID-19 pandemic has hit all the major areas of human existence and one among them is education. It has caused huge loss to the education of children across the world and as the pandemic is losing its heat, governments the world over are planning to throw open their schools for in-person classes. The government of UT of Jammu and Kashmir has also decided to open the schools and invite children back to the classroom, it means, more children will be away from home after a long period of time. Many babies born shortly before or during the COVID-19 pandemic may have stayed at home instead of enrolling in an early childhood education program such as day care or crèche. An early care and education programme will be a completely new experience for such young children and their parents—including caregivers who are playing the role of parents.

Young children are often apprehensive of strangers and prefer to be with their parents and other known and trusted caretakers. It's difficult to convey to children that a new caregiver will take care of them until they are old enough to express their feelings effectively, therefore it takes time for them to adjust to new people. School going children who are sensitive or easily frightened, or who have developmental issues, may require additional time to accommodate. Young children frequently have an easier time transitioning if they have spent time with both their parents and the new person.

Transitions back to school can be especially hard for some children and thus make them emotionally vulnerable. Thus, in order to help children keep up their morale and motivation, the parents and teachers need to make themselves effective in their teaching and parenting practices.

Keeping physical space between persons who don't live together has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers and children older than two years need to continue wearing masks, and early care and education programmes and schools will have to limit visitors to reduce contact. Looking at this situation, the masked faces might add to emotions of uncertainty because facial expressions are used to help communicate feelings and provide reassurance. Thus, changes to the environment and routines may cause things to seem and feel different for children who return to in-person care and offline classes.

Furthermore, adding more complexity to it, children may be aware that the COVID-19 risk is associated with being in the company of others and may be concerned about getting sick. Children are adaptable and flexible in general, but attempts to protect their health may make transitioning to new environments and new people more difficult. Because they can't easily visit and may know less about the programme and the teacher than they would otherwise, parents may be hesitant to enroll their child in an early care and education programme.

Now looking at another dimension to the story, for many families, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stress, fear, and worry. Parenting has become more difficult as a result of worries about illness, finances, and isolation, as well as coping with grief from loss and having less outside aid. Many parents say that their children's behaviour has deteriorated, including anxiety and acting out. Promoting social and emotional learning in schools and early care and education programmes can benefit children and their families. For children with developmental, behavioural, or emotional issues, the move from home to school may be more difficult. Teachers, parents, and programmes can assist children by planning the transition, developing new routines, and establishing strong connections. Children can adjust to their new programme, make new friends, learn new things, and thrive with the right kind of help.

What parents and teachers can do to help children adjust to their new environment?

Those who provide early care and education understand how to assist children in adjusting to their new environment. However, if there is a pandemic and people have been out of care for a long time, it may be beneficial to provide some extra support during the transition. Here are some suggestions to assist families in making the transition back to school.

Teachers and school administrators can:

1. Provide parents with virtual interactions, such as video calls and phone conversations. Connecting parents with other parents might help them learn more about the programme and share their experiences.

2. Create virtual tours so that parents may visit the building and classrooms and understand how their child would feel if they were a student there. Visitors who have been completely immunised may be allowed into schools. If not everyone from a family is fully vaccinated, properly vaccinated school staff can attend in-person meetings indoors with members of a family who may not be vaccinated.

3. Consider holding in-person meetings on the playground to introduce children to the teacher and other students before they begin the programme.

4. To assist children learn what to expect, create a daily framework and routine.

5. Share information with parents of returning children about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect everyday routines and how they may help their children prepare for such adjustments.

6. Provide parents with regular updates on their children's progress in the programme.

7. Focus more on extra-curricular/co-curricular activities (at least for the next couple of months) in order to develop a liking for teachers as well as the school in the minds of the children who visit school form studies and so that it helps them to de-stress more and more.

Parents and Caregivers can:

1. Make contact with other parents whose children are enrolled in the same programme, who can share information and help them feel more at ease.

2. Consult with concerned teachers on the best way to say goodbye to their child at the beginning of the day—brief goodbyes are usually the most effective.

3. Try to stay cool and comforting, while parting away from the child, using a quiet voice and a relaxed face and body to show their child that they wouldn't leave them if they weren't safe and protected.

4. Spend more time before the children leave for school and after the children come back from school.

5. Take care of themselves during stressful situations so that they may better care for others.

6. Learn how to boost their emotional resilience and decrease anxiety.

7. Remember that this is just a stage—forming new relationships is a skill, and children can become resilient with the right assistance. Even if it's difficult to separate from their parents and caregivers, they'll develop a new trusting bond with their new teacher and feel more safe as a result.

8. Engage the children in various co-curricular/extra-curricular activities in order to establish more warmth in the relationship with the child.

Parents who have concerns for their child because their child has not been keeping well can:

1. Establish a daily, predictable routine for their child, including regular times for healthy meals, naps, and night sleep at home. Children adapt better when their bodies are rested and they know what to expect at home.

2. Keep track of their child's developmental milestones and know what to do if they have any concerns.

3. Seek professional help if their child's anxiety or behavior problems are severe or persistent.

4. Obtain parent training and support from a mental health expert so that parents can assist their children.

5. Seek out resources for themselves if they are depressed, anxious, or stressed.

6. Request an evaluation from the school, if a child's new concerns post COVID persist, to see if the child need special education services or accommodations.

7. Inquire about the school's Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children with disabilities.

Schools can:

1. Provide staff development and assistance for teachers, if there are more children who are having difficulty transitioning than usual.

2. Examine and improve resources for staff health and well-being.

3. Make sure they have access to mental health support, if teachers are struggling with their own stress, loss, or trauma as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

4. Provide easy access to social-emotional learning resources.

5. Have a directory of mental health professionals such as clinical psychologists and psychiatrists to seek out timely help for a child or staff if needed.

6. Hire school counselors to help children develop hope, resilience and positivity as well to help children who have special mental health needs.

We all need to look at all the dimensions of every aspect of human existence that have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic and one important aspect among them is education in the post COVID era. If we have to bring normalcy again in human existence then we need to look at each of the various aspects through multiple angles and the angle of mental health is one that can’t be missed.

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He works at Kashmir Life Line, a free mental health counseling service. Author can be reached at [email protected]

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