Noisy children making their way through the school corridors to be on their way home soon, some of them trying hurriedly to get into the school bus to secure a window seat, some of the younger children wailing as they are unwilling to attend school, some parents rushing their kids to the school to be able to reach on time; few scenes of a school in pre Covid days.
And now, the schools and colleges wear a deserted look. It seems like ages since the children have donned their school uniform or picked their school bags. Their entire academic year seems to have been fit into a screen, with no major human interaction, friendly banters or annual sports and cultural events that would be a part of the school life generally.
Some would say that the life of the children is more important than these events or even education for that matter. This is largely true, yet it is important to note how this pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have impacted our children and adolescents.
As we all know, since March 2020, the schools and colleges have been shut. Although a few states did reopen the schools and colleges after a sharp decline in the number of Covid cases, the schools and colleges in Mumbai have been shut throughout (barring classes for the 10th and 12th Std.) Most parents would agree that although initially the children did seem happy, eventually it led to a lot of desperation and irritation about being unable to venture out of the homes. With around 20 lakh active cases, one can’t help wonder if another academic year will also be spent at home. While it seems to be easier to have children stay at home and study, the ramifications of the same may not be so simple. Listed below are a few fallouts of the lockdown:
Access To Education
The most significant change that has happened during Covid and lockdown times, is that life has moved online. There is surge in virtual meetings, online shopping and also online education. It is assumed that since every person in every nook and corner has a phone in the hand, everyone probably is able to have access to online education. This is far from being true. According to a survey conducted in 23 states in India in April 2020, 56.01 per cent of those surveyed had no access to smart phones, although 43.99 per cent of these had access to basic phones. In Maharashtra, a survey conducted by the Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) along with UNICEF revealed that only 50 per cent of students of government schools in classes I to VIII were able to access digital learning. Add to this, the lack of electricity and stable internet connection.
Mental Health Issues
Owing to the uncertainty, worries and anxiety surrounding Covid-19, it is easy for children and adolescents to face mental health issues. Half-baked information, constant feeding of negative news, stress and difficulties surrounding online studying and most importantly, uncertainty about the future can have a lot of negative impact. Add to this, the fact that they are unable to physically meet their peers and friends and talk these things out. According to Dr. K Sekhar of Nimhans, there were about 4 lakh calls received between March and October 2020. Now with the second wave picking up again, curfew and lockdowns being imposed again, exams being postponed / cancelled, it is no surprise if there are many more youngsters who are feeling anxious, dejected and are having suicidal thoughts. On account of inability to meeting friends and going out, children may resort to things like crying whereas the youngsters may even choose substance use to cope with the anxiety. Needless to say, that these unhealthy methods of coping will only further aggravate their issues. While problems like inability to sleep, emotional outbursts, loss of appetite, anger etc. may seem normal. These may also be a fallout of some underlying issues caused by the pandemic and lockdown and the anxiety thereof.
Domestic Violence & Abuse
Another serious repercussion of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been the increase in domestic violence. Countries like UK, France, US and Australia agree to the belief that child abuse has increased in the range of 20 -40 %. In the initial days of the National lockdown in 2020, within just eleven days, there were close to 30,000 calls made to a children’s helpline with reports of child abuse and violence. In the days prior to Covid 19, helplines would be able to rescue the child suffering from abuse and provide it some protection, which has now become difficult due to the restrictions of lockdown. Also, if the children are suffering abuse in the hands of a family member, during such lockdown they are vulnerable to frequent and more abuse, with hardly any possibility of accessing the helplines.
Uncertainty about jobs
Covid 19 and the lockdown has resulted in more than 10 million jobs being lost in 2020. The unemployment rate was at 9.1 per cent in December 2020. Experts believe that every year anywhere between 5 million to 12 million people join the workforce. With such a large number of people having lost their jobs, it is going to be difficult for new entrants to find jobs for themselves. An unemployment rate of 12.7 per cent in 2019 has further been worsened by Covid 19. Thus, the youngsters who have graduated are unable to join work, those who are waiting to finish their graduation are faced with an uncertainty regarding their future prospects.
Lack Of Physical Activity And Social Interactions.
A survey conducted in about 1000 youngsters in the age group of 13-25 years revealed that their sleep duration had gone up to 8.17 hours from 6.8 hours, their screen time had increased to 5.12 hours from 3 .5 hours. Not only this, 51.9 % of the respondents revealed an increase in the stress levels, 76.4% of them spoke about an increased food intake and 38.6% said that their physical activity had gone down. Apart from this, on account of the lockdown and schools moving over to virtual medium, there is no or hardly any interaction between the children. While the older kids may resort to video calls and group chatting and so on, the younger children are deprived of it. Moreover, the group chats cannot offer the same pleasure as playing with each other physically would offer this children. Experts believe that while a short term isolation may not be detrimental, a continued one may be so. For, it is only during personal interactions that children learn to be empathetic, share and care and so on. For growing children, interactions outside the family is important for their social development, which has now been curtailed due to the lockdown and subsequent online schooling.
While we have heard, seen and read a lot about migrants’ woes, job losses and economic slowdown during the pandemic, we may or may not have been fed so much information about the effects on the lockdown on the youth. With the second wave bringing up so many cases and another lockdown looming over us, there is still a lot of uncertainty still with regards to conduct of examinations. The same could be said about the next academic year, for school children. In the event of another academic year being conducted virtually, parents and teachers can come together (again virtually) and come up with some extra-curricular activities that could be done virtually that helps kids with each other more than just being spectators to what is being taught.
As for parents, they need to try and get children indulge in interactive play whereby the parents themselves may have to sit and play board games, cards etc. with the children. Also, as and when time and situation permits, children should be encouraged to do some form of exercise. This could include a limited time of outdoor games like badminton, or simple things like skipping and cycling.
One key important thing to remember is the anxiety of the pandemic, the uncertainty of the future, inability to be with their friends may result in frustration among the children and for now, the parents may be their target to take it out on. It is here where the parents’ support will play a crucial role in comforting them.
As they say nothing lasts forever, this too may not. But, for as long as it lasts, the concerned stakeholders can come up with alternatives to reduce the harm on our youth.
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