2020 was already a difficult year for everyone. The pandemic had its share of impact on children and their education as well. Many were adjusting to online mode of teaching, which included countless WhatsApp groups, online assignments, doubt clearing sessions, submissions and even annual exams. The other bunch of students waited anxiously as the important public and competitive exams to be postponed. Sure, it was a stressful time for students of all age groups. But as the new year came, we all hoped for it to be better.
Just as we were trying to bounce from the effects of the first lockdown, and trying to get back to our lives, next wave of the virus hit us. Some states have again switched to partial/complete lockdown system to break the chain. As a measure to reduce the casualty, schools and colleges have once again been shut down and exams have been postponed till further notice. The impact has been on students from all age groups: right from those in kindergarten to those in high school and colleges. Students have their own understanding of the pandemic. Let us first address the concerns they are facing.
Children were initially happy with the lockdown. But as months passed by, they started getting impatient and worried. And though they are occupied and studying their subjects online, they are still left with a huge void. Sheetal, mother to a 6-year-old child adds, “It is tough on the kids; they miss their friends, playing in the ground. My daughter keeps asking me ‘mama, when will the school open, till when should we be at home, when will I meet my friend?’ It’s difficult to answer and calm their anxious minds”.
Secondary & High School:
Those who are facing their public and competitive exams are facing extreme anxiety and stress. With not much clarity on the syllabus pattern for this year, continuous postponement of theoretical and practical exams, when the academic year begins/ends, everything seems uncertain and chaotic. Reports of depression, anxiety and stress have quadrupled during the past year and a half. Rohan, who is currently preparing for his board and competitive exams summarises it. “It’s like there’s a question mark in front of everything. It doesn’t seem fair”.
Colleges open the door to a world of opportunities and experiences. Preet, a second-year college student adds, “I miss the fact that opportunity for hands-on exposure is missing in our curriculum like internships, field postings or even meeting people of our field. Though most of it is done online through webinars, conferences, it’s just not the same”. As college students, freshers and farewell parties are the highlight moments. With the current scenario, these are being called off. Neha, final year BBA student shares, “these events are always special and is a big deal for us: we dream to look our best, click pics and make memories. It’s just so sad that we won’t be having any of this”.
Psychological Impact on the Children:
Students are mostly spending their day in front of their digital devices. While for studies and completion of assignments they use that laptop, other time of the day they are hooked onto their social media accounts/online games in their phones. This constant exposure to information throughout the day has resulted in many young children experiencing mental fatigue. Psychological issues like increased irritability, inattention and clinging behaviour were revealed by all children irrespective of their age groups. The irritation and low intertest among children could also stem from the fact that there is a continued sense of uncertainty. There is no closure on when will it all end and they could go back to the old life.
With the necessity of the gadgets increased, there has been a spike in reports of physical health conditions among the students. In fact, a study conducted in U.S highlighted that the sedentary lifestyle as a result of less physical activity and sitting long hours at one place has put the children (aged 5 to 13 years) at risk of developing obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. With no proper routines, increased stress/anxiety, lack of physical activity or exercise, playing online games till late in the night, disturbed sleep cycle (difficulty falling or getting back from sleep, a smaller number of sustained sleep hours) has become another critical issue experienced by young children in these times.
With the social distancing and isolation, there is an increased social media use among students, especially teenagers, who use it as medium to connect with others. Some also use it for pass time and kill the boredom. Either way, the escalating online presence and reduced online supervision has also led to an increase in reports of cyber bullying. A recent study done on students highlighted that factors like age and sexual orientation were significant factors during the pandemic that influenced bullying. In fact, instances of cyber stalking, exposure to abusive online content have only risen since lockdown.
In some cases, this has paved to addiction. With the option to mute the video/audio of the class, many kids log in for the classes while simultaneously playing multiplayer games like Pubg, FIFA, Ludo, Call of Duty, Asphalt 9, Candy Crush and Rummy.
Addiction is a growing serious concern, especially among teenagers. It comes with many behavioural and emotional changes like increase in risk taking behavior, reduced socialisation, rage issues to name a few. Many parents are now seeking outside help through counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists to help them.
Effects Beyond the Classroom:
The damage caused to the education system during the course of the pandemic goes beyond the classroom education. The quality of lives of the children takes the hit as well. Personal, Moral, Emotional and Social development of a child is as much a part of the education as is the subject material. With the closure of schools, the vulnerable population (like refugee children and young girls) are subjected to atrocities like verbal/physical abuse, domestic violence, forced early marriage, child labour etc.
“The Policy Brief”:
Education during Covid-19 and Beyond” by the United Nations have given a concise and crisp summary of the impact of the current scenario on the emerging adult population. They have minutely drawn attention to how the pandemic has stalled the years of efforts and progress made in the field of education system, widening the gap of learning opportunities among children. One of the key points they have mentioned was the increasing rate of dropout among school children.
The trend is already seen in India. With fluctuating source of income and migration back to hometowns, many districts have reported dropouts and increased absenteeism among school children. An article carried out by a leading newspaper emphasised about the staggering rate of dropouts especially among children between class 6th and 10th in few states. For some students even the inability to arrange the means for education (like laptops/ cell phones, sustained internet connection) became the reason for dropping a year or discontinuing their education.
The Flip Side:
Families are utilising the time as an opportunity to educate the children on other important aspects of living like: managing household chores, learning new skills, maintaining healthy lifestyle. “There is a world beyond the books, that is slowly opening to children. As a parent, it is tough to juggle everything but I think making efforts in this direction does pay off”- adds a parent to a 12-year-old.
Sure, these are challenging times, but another way to look at this is that children are getting creative and experimental. They are open to the experiences that come with it. 19-year-old Nidesh adds, “I’m suddenly finding myself to be more willing to experiment and find out what will work for me in this new world. We can no longer hold a rigid approach when deciding what career we want. Though the situation is critical, I know this too shall pass. I am hopeful”.
Will the resilience of the children and the youth pay off or will we succumb to the crisis? Only time will tell…