Toll of prolonged school closures on children

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Childhood is the best part of a lifetime that everyone tries to go back to, but no one could ever do that. In this context school is where children begin to socialise and learn how to communicate and work collectively. Also most of the time school was the place to spot the hidden talent of children where they unconsciously expose their talent, unfortunately, the prevailing situation in the country is virtually stealing that wonderful and invaluable period away from children who are yet to bloom!

Wasantha Kasthuriarachchi is a senior teacher and a councillor of a popular school in Borella for 38 years. According to him the present situation in the country has affected school children in no uncertain terms. He said when schools physically commenced after online sessions, children were behaving in a distracted and playful manner. He also said the scoring percentage had decreased and showed that students had given up on their studies.

He said attendance and the results put together reflected that more than half the number of students got low marks due to lack of attendance. He emphasised that even online education was not 100 per cent practical as there were many issues regarding devices, connections or data. He said teachers were finding it difficult to continue lessons as some students did not participate in online lessons regularly. He also said even though students were counselled, with online education, there was a huge void created between students and teachers and students were not being counselled as before.

“If there are three children in a family in different grades, and when all of them are having online lessons at the same time how can they work? Can their parents buy them their own devices?” He queried. Kasthuriarachchi also claimed that when there are three or four school going children in a family, concentration is more towards the child who is to sit for national level examinations, as a result the other children miss out on this facility, he explained.

He stressed that when students don’t attend school, there are no opportunities for education or sports and therefore they become frustrated with the monotony.

He also said due to examinations being postponed, students get depressed. In addition frustrating teachers as well in their endeavour to focus on an oncoming examination and having to prepare students for it. He lamented that everything has got into a tangle like a ball of yarn!

In another sentiment expressed about the mental impact of children with the crisis situation, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Dr.Miyuru Chandradasa, said the economic crisis has affected children’s mental health in different ways such as when parents lose their jobs, when income dips and when there is job insecurity, they become depressed and this affects children’s mental well -being invariably according to recent research conducted in this regard.

As a second factor, he said due to the economic and fuel crisis, schools are interrupted and as a result many children will not be able to attend school continuously and therefore their stress levels could elevate as homes too were undergoing immense stressful situations.

Negative news

He also said when children are always exposed to negative news such as fuel and food shortages, people dying in queues and people getting into fights in filling stations, a child’s mind will go on a negative trend and will also contribute to  stress levels rising.

As a fourth factor, he said children will fear the future, especially students who have to face national level examinations. They will be uncertain and unsure about their future and that anxiety will affect their dreams as well.

He claimed that when children and teenagers are under psychological stress the commonest percentage is increasing anger (irritability), lack of interest in school work and a changing sleep cycle; they will find it difficult to fall asleep at night but will sleep during the day and wake up late. As for eating habits, this too will undergo change and some children will eat more than usual, while some others will eat less than usual. Another aspect was constant disagreement with parents, which are symptoms of increasing stress levels.

Dr.Chandradasa insisted that even though children were undergoing increased stress levels, they are unable to be seen by qualified professionals due to the severe lack of transport, thus exacerbating their situation. Although doctors are aware that the number of children facing this type of situation was on the rise, they were unaware of the numbers and were unable to deal with the situation.

However, he said a rough estimate showed that there was a 25 per cent increase in children seeking psychiatric treatment at the end of the Covid period.

Children were studying at home instead of going to school; parents have no time to encourage children to get on with their lives as they too were facing immense difficulties in making ends meet and in the absence of suitable surroundings, children’s education is facing unwarranted danger!

Children are the future of a country. When the instability of the country obscures the future of children, what can we expect from them? Was this what the State meant by sustainable development?

By Kanchana Kolagolla