Addressing the mental well-being of children is crucial as schools reopen, says study report

Bhubaneswar : Children, despite being less affected by the coronavirus itself, are bearing a disproportionate burden of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is not just affecting their physical health but also their mental wellbeing. The prolonged school closure and movement restriction caused fear, anxiety, stress and social bearings among children. Therefore, as schools reopen, addressing the mental wellbeing of these children will play a crucial role in helping them to overcome psychological distress and adjust smoothly in a post-covid classroom, revealed an online study report released by the non-profit Atmashakti Trust and its allies Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, Odisha.

Conducted initially with 2219 school going children of Class 1 to 8 from 84 blocks of 16 rural districts of Odisha, the report says “almost half of children (49.8 %) reportedly could not get required support from their family members to deal mainly with their emotional, social as well as learning support needs during the pandemic. Most importantly, out of 2219 children, 91.5% were from government-run schools, 84.7% were from schools under School and Mass Education Dept. and 6.8% were from schools managed by ST & SC Development, Minorities & Backward Classes Welfare Department, Government of Odisha. The study will cover 50000 students to understand mental wellbeing of children and the report will be shared

Lack of access to online education also played a major role in children’s elevated mental stress. 94.3% of the children interviewed for the study reported that they did not have access to a smartphone making their learning difficult and stressful. Online education was attended merely by 10.2% of children. But the grave concern is that online education was quite confusing for 32.2% of children. Even 17% of children, who attended online classes anyway, showed their discontent, saying that it was challenging for them on many fronts. While 12.8% of children have reported that they could not interact or ask questions with teachers in fear of being bullied by their teachers, 14.7% of them felt embarrassed to ask a question as the concept of online classes was something that none of them was prepared for.

Students’ attitudes and turns of mind are influenced to a great extent by the support they obtain from teachers. But according to the study report, 68.9% of children said there was no connection between them and their teachers during the prolonged school closure period. Also, 60.3% of children reported that they were fearful about their learning loss when they heard about the school closure news.
Even though school closure was essential to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among children, it affected the social behaviour of children badly. Even more shockingly, 73.2% of children reported that they experienced mental and physical abuse during the pandemic. Also, 47.3% of children said that they were engaged in household work to support their families.

“The study report reveals a trend of children reporting an increased difficulty to their mental wellbeing. As schools reopen, there is an emergent need for an action plan to address the mental wellbeing of children, especially those from the marginalised communities who were mostly left out of any support during the pandemic. Counselling, extra support to children for improving their social behaviour, mentoring support to lessen their stress and fear in classrooms as well as in their homes is crucial to help them more effectively. In Mo Chatasali, we are helping over 1 lakh children to continue education in Odisha where mental wellbeing is one of the main aspects we are focusing on ” said Ms Ruchi Kashyap, Executive Trustee of Atmashakti Trust.