Covid impacts on children need appropriate attention, interventions: experts

Created 12 October 2021
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Adults and authorities have to pay close attention on the developmental impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and design appropriate interventions to mitigate them, experts say.

A student in an online class in Hanoi, September, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.

In Vietnam and many other places, and the resultant lack of social life and interactions will have impacts that go beyond academics, and these are a matter of concern, international experts say.

Dr William Smith, senior lecturer in Education and International Development, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, said there was a large range of obvious consequences of the pandemic on children.

Smith said it is not just the loss of learning but also "about big pieces of socialization and well-being." It is that school environment that allows kids to learn about social interactions, how to engage in a community, feel connected to peers and get a sense of belonging - all of which "are incredibly important."

In addition, with home-schooling, children have to learn to interact with adults more regularly and virtually engage with peers. This can create some mental health issues, he said, adding: "School closures could create some long term effects on children."

A student in an online class in Hanoi, September, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.

A primary school student attends an online class in Hanoi, September 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang

Since March 2020, when the first Covid-19 cases were detected in Vietnam, schools across the country have closed many times. In the latest school year, a majority of the education institutes are applying virtual learning. Hanoi has not planned a reopening of its schools yet. HCMC has said it may resume offline studying early next year.

Smith said the importance of schools in communities cannot be underestimated, especially in developing countries. A school is more than a place of study. For children, it can also be a safe space, a place where they are fed regularly and access tools and facilities absent at home. Authorities should consider these aspects, he said.

Jeaniene Spink, research director of the Education and Development Program at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), said it was widely known that students have been negatively impacted by the pandemic because they have been unable to attend school.

She also stressed that schools are not just learning centers, they support children's development in general. They are institutes where risks and problems regarding kids are identified and dealt with, apart from providing support in a broader sense.

Hassled, worried parents

HCMC resident Vu Thanh Mai is struggling to help her two sons in primary and middle schools with their online learning.

Her kids are finding it difficult to keep up with the inflexible curriculum, especially at the primary level. So Mai has to work closely with them every day to ensure they can perform well in their regular exams. This is on top of her own work at office and home.

Mai says her children are easily distracted by games and other entertainment channels when they do homework independently.

She is also worried about their physical health. They cannot do regular exercises for fear of disturbing neighbors in the same building. They have missed the swimming classes that she'd paid for before the summer. Online studying has worsened the short-sighted vision of one of her sons.

Mai has also noticed that her boys are becoming less interested in communicating with others.

"I am anxious about the consequences for their development in the long run."

The anxious mother said she was hoping that teachers and schools apply better teaching methods that help to reduce the burden on parents.

Hanoi resident Tran My Hang has similar anxieties with home-schooling. Her son has a heavy learning schedule in preparation for entering high school next year and her daughter has not gone to school since starting in 2020.

Hang said that though parents actively assist their child in learning, they cannot replace teachers who have professional methods. She was very uneasy about her children's deficiencies, both in studies and in terms of social skills because of the prolonged social distancing.

She said she was trying to talk to her kids and understand their real interests, encouraging them to do housework and learn to cook new dishes as part of activities to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Besides, she urges them to join family contests with cousins, writing on various topics including Covid impacts.

Hang said people need to accept that children have no other choice than virtual learning as it was a common condition around the world because of the pandemic. Kids were becoming more tech savvy, but Hang still felt uncertain about the lessons that children could learn from this crisis.

She hoped that teachers will reform their lessons and teaching methods to make them more fun and more lively for students.

Disadvantaged students

Spink said that by and large, students in developing countries, where many lived in difficult circumstances, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Many suffer because they do not have books, computers and other facilities at home and start to fall behind without attending schools in person.

She cited a study conducted at the end of 2020 that found primary school students who did not have books and parents' support in doing homework in Southeast Asia were already two years behind their peers.

Students of higher socioeconomic status (SES) who have learning materials in the home, technology access and good connection with friends are able to handle pandemic challenges well, she said.

Smith of Edinburg University said many children in development countries had to meet increasing demand for them to contribute to the family during the pandemic crisis. In such situations, girls took on more domestic responsibilities, boys looked to join the labor force and help the family as the economy started shrinking, he added.

Smith said he was also concerned about the dropout rate increasing as students get less motivated and see online learning as boring and irrelevant.

In Vietnam, around 1.5 million students living in the countryside and remote areas for 26 provinces and cities were facing for online learning and many have to make do with .

Mitigating impacts

Spink emphasized that parents play a crucial role in the effectiveness of home-schooling. They do not need to sit with their child all day and become second teachers.

She said it most important that parents show their interest and encourage children to overcome difficulties.

She said her team had evidence that students having parents' support did better across the board.

Furthermore, Spink said parents should actively assist teachers in identifying the needs of students, both academically and socially.

She said governments need to investigate, collect evidence at different community levels to understand the impact of the pandemic and provide appropriate support in the short, medium and long term.

Dr Ken Ginsburg, founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the U.S., said the mental health of both children and adolescents has suffered because of the pandemic. Therefore, adults should pay attention to creating a "safe space at home to express feelings and worries" and help them connect with friends. Parents should encourage children to exercise, eat healthy, and get enough sleep, he said.

Ginsburg said he was optimistic that this generation would come out of the pandemic with awareness of how precious human connection is. They have the potential of walking away from this time with a better understanding of the importance of people, connections, protecting the vulnerable, respecting the elderly, and working towards equity and fairness in all matters.

Smith said schools should not just focus on increasing children's scores during the pandemic without caring about what's going on in their life. Instead, they should adopt a holistic approach, recognizing that there are students facing social and personal psychological challenges.

He said students will keep learning even when schools are shut, and the pandemic can be an opportunity for them to learn life lessons about going through challenging times.

VnExpress Hope Foundation's program "Computers for Students" aims to provide tablets, laptops and computers for 3,300 students in circumstances, helping them with access to online education. For more information, kindly refer to .

 

Source: VNE

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