The pandemic aftermath: Impact on apprentice minds
In the last two years, the education system has been through a seismic shift - this shift is bound to have a massive impact on the students' overall learning. The sudden and unprecedented closure of all educational institutions and shifting of the entire system to virtual platforms have significantly changed students' habits as well as learning capabilities. Although the first few months were tough to cope with, everyone got accustomed to it over the long course of two years. This remote learning system caused a gap within the interpersonal connection between a teacher and student, which eventually went on to become a part of the 'New Normal'.
Ever since video reports of school reopening preparations made rounds on social media last year, we have been amped up in anticipation of a rather lively landscape of Dhaka ever since. Later, in March 2022, all educational institutions finally opened up in full force after having the longest shutdown of 543 days compared to any other country in the first phase. However, the excitement seemed to have faded away for many, as reality hit.
With the coronavirus curve flattening down and all the educational institutions opening up, students are still finding it difficult to completely blend in with the new system. There might have been more avenues to explore besides Zoom and other educational platforms during the pandemic, which could augment the interpersonal connections between the teachers and the students. On the other hand, many students have also taken up various tasks like volunteer work, online courses, part-time jobs etc., as an endeavour to make their time amidst the pandemic more impactful. Under such circumstances, many students are stuck juggling work and education, finding no way out of any.
Furthermore, according to the BRAC Rapid Assessment Study from May 2020, 56% of Bangladeshi students did not participate in online classes due to accessibility issues. Educational institutes, on the other hand, have made significant attempts to close the gap by providing educational support or resources to primary and secondary students - something that was completely lacking for early childhood care and development. Due to the epidemic, children under the age of five have been severely deprived of educational and social opportunities. Moreover, pandemic induced mental health issues posed a real problem for young students. Stress on families as a result of lost income, decreased access to education, and changes in children's behaviour during quarantine adds to an increase in child physical and emotional abuse. Over 44% of Bangladeshi respondents in the crisis report analysis done by the USAID said they were under a lot of stress. This has an impact on productivity, children's ability to learn, household cohesion, and household health. Keeping all these issues in mind, the transition from online to physical classes came in with a lot of stress, requiring acclimatization all over again.
In such a scenario, despite all the struggles this vulnerable group of learners are facing, we cannot stress enough the importance in-person education carries. Online learning systems, though necessary at the time, had translated to learning losses. Hence, educational institutions and parents must step up together to make this transition a tad bit easier for the students. With sustainable learning holding a long-term value in shaping an individual's future, it is crucial to ensure that students are enjoying and absorbing the content of their classes.
To make this happen, an ideal approach would be to make the transition smoother by initially keeping the option of attending classes online upon emergency open, or by providing extra support whenever needed. In the case of assessments, we can start off with viable alternatives to pen-and-paper exams such as assignments, group work, projects, open-book exams etc. These methods have also been proven to be rather sustainable in many cases. Substantial efforts in making classes more engaging and fun through videos, participative discussions and practical representations can be a great way to motivate students to come back to classes and learn more effectively. Such methods not only facilitate the learning process but also keeps the students active and motivated.
Aside from the efforts to close the academic gap caused by the pandemic, teachers must also deal with the emotional, behavioural, and attachment concerns of students during on-campus classes. Teachers may be unable to spot emotional and social disorders in their students due to a lack of resources. Because of the kids' masked faces, some teachers may miss nonverbal communication signs.
To address these concerns, experts (counsellors or school psychologists) might conduct general assessments of students who have been identified by instructors as being uneasy or restless in the classroom. These screenings assist school psychologists in determining what type of assistance the child requires and how the school can provide it. Briefings for parents and secondary carers can be executed for restoring an emotionally healthy home environment.
Apart from these technicalities, struggling students must be dealt with empathy at all times, where their problems are recognized and valued. They should feel free to come to their teachers or parents with any issues they face, be it academic or personal.
Apart from academic losses, many students lost their loved ones in the pandemic, and suffered financial struggles, while others dealt with pandemic-induced mental health issues. These have largely catered to the students' reluctance to go back to school, hence should be dealt with utmost care. Other than that, students who have developed and practised social interaction through online platforms might face problems of social anxiety and lack of confidence in face-to-face communication. They must care with acceptance and love for restoring their confidence and social skills.
The abrupt hit of the Covid-19 pandemic led to massive changes across the globe, the adverse impact on education being a major one. Jyoti is only one example of many students currently scuffling to tackle the unanticipated challenges thrown at them. We have all heard that "change is the only constant", but the struggles of coping with frequent and unanticipated changes are often forgotten. Hence, it is now time for the teachers and parents to come together and support these learners in their quest to find familiarity within change!
The author is the Principal of DPS STS School