Mental health among students has always been a topic of discussion. With Covid-19 cases steadily rising, many schools are moving classes online completely or to a further extent. Of course, the situation brings about many challenges not just for one group - parents, educators and students seem to face a new challenge every day and while there is support, it can get overwhelming.
It’s easy to assume that students have adapted well to distance or hybrid learning as many might be better with technology than most adults. While that could hold weight, we must look at the emotional and physical toll it can have on students.
In many families, siblings take care of each other when their parents are at work. Now that most have to stay at home and attend classes, they now face the additional challenge of getting an education while taking care of a younger one. Some have lost family members and are forced to keep moving while they struggle with grief.
Even before Covid-19 ravaged the world, school schedules have been hectic for both teachers and students. But with on-campus classes, students had the opportunity to socialize and stay physically active even though classes took up most of their day. Sure, they can always chat with their friends on social media, but it doesn’t feel the same especially now.
Technology itself can hinder a student’s education as well. Those who have bad internet connections (or no connection at all) or a slower laptop are struggling to keep up. Some can’t afford to buy a new device or faster internet and are forced to make it work even if they lag behind. It can be disheartening for those struggling with technology but for many, they don’t have other options.
“As teachers, our jobs do not just entail promoting academic excellence, but much more than that; guiding our students to become the best individuals they can be. Teaching wellbeing is such an important part of a student's personal development; enabling students to reflect on their goals and ambitions, strengthen their health and social awareness, develop attitudes and attributes to help them overcome any adversity and guide them to making a positive difference to society.” - Adam Patel, The Sheffield Private School, UAE
What do students really need?
It’s safe to say that schools have always tried their best to focus on wellbeing. Many educators will constantly look for ways to improve their relationships with students so that they can build a strong bond and let students know that they can be trusted. But how much focus is truly put on making sure students are being taken care of?
There are only so many times you can utter the words “we know what you’re going through” before it starts to lose substance. Students, especially today, need to be constantly reassured that you are there to support them in every way.
“Whilst the world is as it is, a focus on well-being is crucial. In an ever-changing and uncertain environment, children must know that they are safe, loved and that things will get better.” - Joseph Ashcroft, Raeburn Primary School, UK
Younger students especially are trying to grasp multiple new concepts in one go. Primary teachers alike are working hard to make sure these young students get the education they deserve without compromise.
The current generation is known to spend copious amounts of time on the internet. Gaming, social media, YouTube videos - they like to spend their free time online. But what happens when you’ve already spent the first eight to nine hours of your day confined to your computer screen?
Our students now spend more time with their devices due to online classes, homework, assessments and the list goes on. They are essentially being stripped of something they otherwise enjoyed doing and are left to find other hobbies. While the internet connects us virtually, spending that much time online can start to make you feel disconnected. How are students meant to connect with their friends online when they’ve exhausted their time on computers?
As a community, it’s our duty to remind students that they’re not alone. No matter how alone they feel, we have their backs.
“Having the opportunity to be in class, even just for several days, is crucial for young kids to develop their social and emotional skills. Unfortunately, lockdowns can affect their mood and development. Online classes can help, but they are not as efficient when it comes to young kids. However, they allow students to see their friends and teachers and follow everyday routines, giving them a sense of stability and safety.” - Natalia Tserki, Istanbul International School, Turkey
Why is student wellbeing a necessity in 2021?
Checking up on students is vital, but many require more attention. It isn’t enough for us to simply ask “how are you doing?” when speaking to our students anymore. Teenagers tend to suppress emotions and we need to do our best to get them to open up.
“As a Leadership Team, we all made regular phone calls to our families each week during the lockdown. In some areas of the school, this meant that each household was called several times. This allowed us to talk with parents and students to check on both their well-being and how our distance learning provision was working for the students. This was important feedback to us as a school as it enabled us to adapt and modify our provision to ensure that we were meeting the needs of all of our learners.” - Mark Ford, Principal, The English College, UAE
Anxiety levels have risen, especially for older students who now face the challenge of applying to universities without knowing if they’ll even be able to sit their exams. With the uncertainty around GCSE exams, both educators and students are left wondering and waiting.
As Covid-19 cases continue to rise, many schools aren’t sure when they will be able to return to campus. This poses risk to the emotional wellbeing of our youth. Children and young adults need human interaction to thrive and grow as people. They love being around their friends and when they are in a situation that keeps them away from normalcy, their mental health is affected. For our primary students, social interaction during the early years is vital for childhood development and helps strengthen their language and communication skills and confidence.
“Wellbeing is now undoubtedly the most important subject in education. It can be taught and it can be studied. Potential cannot be fulfilled if wellbeing is overlooked.” - Daniel Edwards, Raffles International School, UAE
Prioritizing wellbeing in an era of uncertainty
Uncertainty can be a menacing companion. It’s stressful enough to try to stay safe as possible no matter where we go, but there’s so much chaos surrounding us all on a daily basis. When can we see our friends again? Will I be able to have a proper university experience?
Schools recognize this and understand the importance of going out of their way to make sure students are emotionally healthy.
“The school (St. Mary’s Catholic High School, Dubai) does a survey every other week to see how students are doing. They ask questions to learn how many hours of sleep our kids are getting, what their hobbies are and how often those hobbies are pursued, whether teachers are helpful and if any student is facing instances of online bullying - all important questions that need to be asked when our kids are spending all of their time looking at a computer screen.” - Julia Soares, Parent, UAE
Yes, wellbeing has always been important for the entire community. But Covid-19 has brought about immensely difficult challenges and every day brings in something new. We are preparing this generation to be world leaders and future educators, but face the obstacle of motivating students today during these trying times. As parents and educators, and an overall education community, it’s vital that we continue to talk our kids through this turmoil and get them back on the right track.