|LETTER TO EDITOR
|Year : 2021 | Volume
| Issue : 5 | Page : 250-252
COVID in children: The generation that was changed by the pandemic
Department of Preventive Health and Wellness, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, India
|Date of Submission||14-Sep-2021|
|Date of Decision||24-Sep-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||27-Sep-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||30-Oct-2021|
Dr. Kanika Chandra
Department of Preventive Health and Wellness, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Rajinder Nagar, New Delhi-51
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Chandra K. COVID in children: The generation that was changed by the pandemic. Curr Med Res Pract 2021;11:250-2
The world getting hit by COVID ushered in uncertain changes in the life of all and changed the way we knew school education. From the very beginning, our aim was containment, early detection and dealing with the rising cases every day followed by alleviation of morbidity and mortality. The findings suggest that at least 1,134,000 children experienced the death of either parent mother/father, or custodial grandparents, as a consequence of COVID-19. Of these, an estimated 1,042,000 lost their mother or father, or both. Overall, 1,562,000 children are estimated to have experienced the death of at least one parent or a custodial or other co-residing grandparent (or other older relative). Several studies that have been conducted during COVID suggest that the rates of incidence were lower in children and adolescents as compared to the rates in adults. This statement may in part be due to lesser exposure of children (as play areas, schools and day centres were shut) and also lower probabilities of getting them tested. On the other side of this statement are other studies that conducted tests (antigen or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) on children/adolescents irrespective of their symptoms or previous history of infection (through antibody tests) have found their rates of infection to be comparable and at times higher than the adults. In comparison to the adults, the children and adolescents who are infected with COVID were found to be asymptomatic (never showing or developing symptoms) or have very mild and non-specific symptoms (such as stuffy nose, headaches, sore throat or low-grade fever).
Children are finding themselves at the risk of emotional instability, physical, sexual abuse, financial insecurities, lack of education, increased risk of delinquent behaviour/suicides, adolescent pregnancies, rise in infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, etc. According to UNICEF near about 168 million children have been out of school due to lockdown because of the raging COVID scenario. A majority of these children fall back on schools not only for education but also for peer interaction, basic health and immunisation facilities and a midday nutritious meal.
Distress and dire need became the father and mother of innovation and hence remote learning, online classroom and social media became the areas of education whether we approved or not. What followed next was the great disparity in various aspects be that the availability of devices, accessibility to the Internet, knowledge pertaining to the usage of technology and gender inclusivity.
There are challenges in plenty when it comes to online schooling, especially in the economically weaker section and the vulnerable sections of communities and it widens the gap between the genders in these sections. If we really pay attention we can see that the impact of online education falls on different aspects of our lives altering them beyond our control.
What are we looking at by closure of schools:
- There is disruption in the rhythm of learning for children and youth alike, hampering the natural course of mental development and growth
- Nutrition is getting compromised as a majority of economically weaker sections rely on midday meals as the source of nutrition at times
- Parents are facing a challenge on how to manage remote learning be it pertaining to technology or physical attention wise
- Indirect strain on health-care system: Health-care personnel's with children who are now being remotely educated will have to stay back to take care of their children and this will lead to absence at work, especially during the critical phase of where they are actually needed the most
- Social isolation: The teacher-student and student-to-student interaction on professional and friendly levels will get skewed which will leave a lasting impact on social–interactive skills and also effect mental development
- Rise in Drop-outs: It may be a challenge to get back all the students once the schools reopen as in weaker sections of the community the adolescent children are sometimes are under pressure to work and generate financial assistance
- Increase exposure of young minds to exploitation/physical or sexual abuse: Due to direct or indirect mental and economic pressures on different households, the children end up facing the brunt of it all. Early marriages, girls being pushed into prostitution leading to unintended teenage pregnancies and increase in child labour is being witnessed
8. Disruption of academic assessment and validating learning: Postponing, skipping or altering calendered examinations create undue stress over students and their families leading to further disengagement.
Any new change will be resisted and criticised it feels like an unsaid rule but in all honesty, remote learning is here to stay and it will alter the way education is imparted for times to come. With passing time, we will have to adapt to the hybrid system of learning and schooling where online teaching will continue but with occasional face-to-face and physical interactive sessions.
Now the schools will not just set boundaries for limited learning scope or cater to a local community but they can have a global outreach connecting children around the globe for a more enriching experience. The classroom style of teaching may be passé but it will not disappear altogether. The educators and the children have been adapting themselves with the ever-changing styles of remote education. There is a need for children/students at large to be given some kind of autonomy over what they want to learn, how they learn, where they learn and how they want to be assessed. If this happens the students will feel less restrained and have a more receptive outlook.
What to teach and how to teach has to be addressed at a larger scale. We have to bring in changes in the following
- The students have to be prepared for the new age of technology and in the era of smart gadgetry, education should make them creative, entrepreneurial and globally competent. Competency-based curriculum is the need of the hour and we need to harness the individuality of children. Their social and mental and emotional well-being has to be taken along
- We need to personalise teaching experience which currently is only available through computer-based teaching. The flexibility of curriculum will lead to students choosing their passion and strengths wisely. The set template of the curriculum should be such for all that they learn the basic norms, essential skills and basic competences
- The power of being co-developers of their own curriculum is something that will enhance students' ability to make choices, create new learning content and subsequently learn about the consequences of their actions.
We have to openly accept that there remains a divide between the technologically savy, digitally competent section and on the other hand the one that is not so. We need to work on blurring this divide for a smoother way ahead.
The opening of schools in India will be a double-edged sword, on one hand, we are dealing with the weaker sections that are not technologically advanced and are eager to get back to physical schooling. While on the other hand, we have unvaccinated children thronging the schools which may not be well prepared to handle the COVID norm leading to a bigger and deadlier fiasco. As stated by Centres for disease control and prevention, the transmission of COVID in schools and early care and education programs will be dependent on local transmission rates, the types of variants currently prevalent: epidemiology of COVID among children, teenagers and school staff, Vaccine coverage for those available and measures put in place to prevent further transmission. Sports that include close content or other extracurricular activities may definitely lead to rise in transmission rates among children involved, the staff and the spectators. Intense exercising or shouting, singing or choir practices may lead to higher transmission in case one of the members is already infected. There is a high chance that the respiratory droplets may be generated/propelled at a much higher rate infecting and exposing many more than exhaling at rest would. We may have to rethink about how to conduct these activities in a more open area and in controlled environment.
The Government, the parents, the school authorities have to look at the bigger and more inclusive picture but with riders which may give us a win-win situation ultimately. We have to protect the students, the staff and the families involved. Re-imaging and Reassessing physical schooling is the key but it is easier said than done. If we were to implement the following
- Staggering the start and finishing of school
- Staggering mealtimes
- Holding classes in more spacious or open spaces
- letting the school work in shifts with smaller class sizes
- Educating and habitualising the staff and students alike in respiratory hygiene
- Strictly adhering to physical distancing along with proper sanitisation of school furniture/common areas
- Handwashing and hygienic water facilities will be important
- Screening and testing for high school students for symptomatic and occasionally at random
- Staying home when sick and alerting the school authorities
- Adhering to home isolation/Quarantine if needed and aid in contact tracing.
The aforementioned list may seem to be doable (and Exhaustive) but can it be implemented across the country which has a milieu of different social and religious practices and will children even 16 or 17 years old adhere to the norms instinctively that remains to be seen.
If we think about children and how they are reacting to the current schooling scenario there are many pent-up feelings, frustration, anxieties and getting them back to the classroom may become an uphill task. We have to support the young and agile minds and nurture them with compassion, empathy and positivity. We have to let them know that it is natural to feel all of this. Looking towards the parents who are facing their own turmoil's and are also holding strong for their kids it will be a seen how many are ready to welcome the reopening of schools. A good percentage of urban Parents have slowly over the last 1.5 years adapted well to remote learning and are finding homeschooling a very safe and convenient option, especially when either of the two parents is working from home. We have to tread carefully on the path of learning (and teaching) and there is going to be a need of handholding for the young and impressionable minds so that we do not bungle the one chance we have to re-invent education medium and the pedagogy. Let's not gamble our future and wash away the aspirations of a generation due to the pandemic and our sheer folly.
| References|| |
Hillis SD, Unwin HJ, Chen Y, Cluver L, Sherr L, Goldman PS, et al.
Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and deaths of caregivers: A modelling study. Lancet 2021;398:391-402.
Zhao Y, Watterston J. The changes we need: Education post COVID-19. J Educ Change 2021;22:3-128.