Experts and child psychologists suggest a return to familiarity would help undo the trauma of being cooped up at home for close to a year
The return to physical classrooms after a gap of close to a year would not be the worst thing for children at present, said experts and child psychologists.
“We have seen a lot of anxiety and depression among children during the pandemic,” said Mahjabeen Haque, professor and chairperson of the department of educational and counselling psychology at the University of Dhaka.
The long-drawn-out stay at home, the separation from friends and the restriction on engaging in their usual social activities like sports had put a toll on their mental wellbeing.
“Living in such close quarters, children have witnessed problems in the family, panic over disease, death of loved ones and an increase in domestic violence.”
To make matters worse, children do not feel comfortable with all members of the family to talk about their trauma.
“They keep parents at a distance, unlike their friends. So, because of all these factors, both the physical and mental health of children have been affected by the pandemic,” Haque added.
The parents can sense the strain their children are going through and are concerned about the mental damage the public health crisis has caused as well as the delays in cognitive, emotional and social development.
Take the case of Shahana Ahmed, a mother of a class-10 student.
She says her son has spiralled into depression amid the pandemic.
“He is often angry or crying, which was never the case before. He says he does not like anything.”
One day, without informing anyone, her son left home in Bashabo for the schoolyard, where he sat there all by himself for hours.
“When he came home, he said he had to get out as he was finding it unbearable to stay at home any longer,” Ahmed said.
The incident prompted Ahmed to take her son to a child psychologist.
While her son is going by what the psychologist has prescribed, she worries if her son will be normal again.
“The school, it seems, was a safe place for my son.”
Perhaps a return to physical classroom would help matters, she added.
“I think the government could have decided to open the educational institutions two-three months ago,” said Abdus Shahid Mahmood, director of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum.
Since offices, courts, public transport and even the cinema halls are already open, they could have opened the schools as well.
“Children's addiction to mobile phones and the internet is increasing due to online classes. As a result of sitting in front of the screen for a long time, they are having various problems, including blurred vision and headaches,” Mahmood added.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), suggested that high schools and universities are opened before primary schools as the older students are more likely to have the maturity to follow health guidelines.
Things though will not click back to where they were before coronavirus arrived on these shores in March last year -- right away.
The damage will take a while to undo, so the parents and teachers need to treat the children with kid gloves.
As many as 69.5 percent of the students did not participate in the virtual lessons, according to a study by CAMPE, meaning many of the children are behind in terms of learning.
Schools need to arrange interactive and enjoyable class activities instead of placing undue pressure on students to make up for the lost time, experts said.
“In addition to sending children to school, we can do something new within the family to bring them back to normal. We need to talk to them and pay more attention to them. Keeping pets or plants can also help,” Haque said.