Back to School During the Ongoing Pandemic

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Children Need the Support of Parents and Teachers

Dubai – The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought inconceivable challenges to the most secure social entity, i.e. “families” all over the world. When faced with the possibility of a disastrous pandemic, in March 2020, it was natural that policy makers decided to close schools as a measure towards curbing or preventing transmission. UNESCO estimated that more than 60% of the world’s students have had their education disrupted by closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These closures resulted in damage to a child’s social, psychological, and educational development, as well as lost income and productivity in adults who could not work because of childcare responsibilities. Apart from the health hazards, the pandemic had unleashed a bigger demon on the children and parents of the world.

According to UNESCO, over 1.5 billion learners in 165 countries have been affected by closures of school since March. Most of these students were at the primary and secondary level, which constituted the most important years of their growth as individuals. The sudden drastic changes around their lives at school left them hapless. The source of safety, comfort, social and mental interaction, found in the familiar structure of a brick and mortar school were taken away abruptly from millions of kids, and they had to make do with interacting with their teachers and friends through a screen on their gadgets. In some parts of the world, schooling was completely dependent on smartphones, ‘WhatsApp’ and similar models since Wi-Fi or a good internet connection, was far from reality. Adding to this, the children had to face the anxiety of a parent losing their job, being threatened with a disruption in their normal lives.

Teachers, around the world, proved to be the real warriors, taking up this challenge as it came and working day and night to make the remote learning experience a meaningful one.

The other set of warriors were parents. As homes multitasked as office, school and living space, parents found themselves with newfound challenges. The extended time at home was more of a pressure juggling between various roles. The anxiety of the changing scenario, the uncertainty of the future and to top it with parenting, which had become more crucial than ever before, seemed to take its toll. In such times, to support your child emotionally became imperative.

Psychologists say the key is to keep talking to your child and to restore structure into their lives. To make sure that there is a timetable they follow, of a normal day and night schedule. Eating right at regular intervals, and getting good sleep while adhering to a routine, helps kids cope with the new challenges in a positive way. Parents now are required to be mindful of any change in their behavior and look for telltale signs of caution, that spoke of underlying anxieties such as throwing tantrums, loss of interest in everything, and excessive sleeping.

Robert Jenkins, UNICEF’s Global Chief of Education, offered five tips to help keep children’s education on track while they’re staying home:

1) Planning a routine together
2) Open to conversations
3) Take your time
4) Protect Children Online
5) Stay in touch with your child’s education provider.

Now as the world gears up to returning kids to school in September for Fall 2020 session, it is a welcome event that has to be undertaken with complete awareness of the situation. According to UNICEF, more than 70 countries have announced plans to reopen schools and hundreds of millions of students have returned in recent weeks. [As of early June 2020] These decisions will be taken by national or state governments, often with the approval of local authorities. They will have to examine public health, and the welfare and risks for education and other factors.

The best interest of every child should be at the center of these decisions, though how it will be implemented may vary from school to school. Most of the schools have provided options for the students to choose from, like 100% physically attending school, 100% continuing with remote learning or a hybrid version. Sending kids back to school will be a difficult decision for parents and they must ask the school authorities any question that comes to their mind and clear all the doubts.

Schools on the other hand should be open about their policies on how they plan to take the students in. They should share all the practical measures, they would be taking to keep their students, staff and teachers and their families safe. UNICEF website states some of the precautionary measures taken by the school should include:

• Staggering the start and close of the school day
• Staggering mealtimes
• Moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors
• Holding school in shifts, to reduce class size

Water and hygiene facilities will be a crucial part of schools reopening safely. Administrators should look into safe practices to improve hygiene measures, including handwashing, respiratory etiquette (i.e. coughing and sneezing into the elbow), physical distancing measures, regular checking of temperature, and cleaning procedures.

In addition to this, parents should ask the school to tell them about how they mean to tackle the mental stigma/bullying against any child suffering from COVID-19. They should be aware of the safety measures provided by the school. Since this would be an evolving situation, the parents should make sure that they are informed about every decision that is taken concerning the well-being and safety of their child once he/she is on school premises.

For some students going back to school may be stressful and they may find it difficult to focus and settle in. In such cases, both the parents and teachers should be patient and create a routine and easy task around schoolwork, to deal with anxiety and restlessness.

Overall, we must remember that for every child, the stress of dealing with the ongoing crisis, will be unique. The responsibility of creating a supportive and nurturing environment and responding positively to questions and expressions of their feelings lie with the parents and the teachers. We must effectively show our support and let our child know that it’s normal to feel anxious at times like this. With the right attitude and mindset, we can overcome all calamities, a pandemic notwithstanding.

Rituparna Mahapatra
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Rituparna Mahapatra, is a writer based in Dubai. She taught English literature at Sambalpur University, Orissa and Delhi University. She worked briefly with Britannica India, and has contributed to many leading newspapers both regional and national. Currently she is editor-at-large UAE, of; and teaches creative writing in English.

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