New Delhi, Sep 21 (IANS): As schools across the country now open after two years of online education, principals, teachers and behavioural experts on Wednesday reported a significant rise in behavioural issues among schoolchildren like aggression, attention span deficit, sleeplessness, and emotional disturbances, especially among those who lost their near and dear ones in Covid.
Stressing upon the need to introduce social emotional learning programmes and counselling sessions across schools in the, they said the situation is delicate and will need at least a year or so to bring affected kids back into the normal course of life.
"Post-pandemic, there have been huge changes in children, in terms of how they view their teachers, their schools, their peers and so on. Their attention span has reduced and writing skills have taken a toll for sure. Their sleep patterns have also gone for a toss, leading to irritability," Nikita Tomar Mann, Principal at Indraprastha Global School in Noida, told IANS.
Several school children have gone through a lot of trauma as their parents went through financial distress in the last two years, resulting in deep emotional issues creeping in among them.
"Children do understand that their parents faced financial issues like unable to pay school fees or house rent as some of them lost jobs or faced pay cuts. They came back to school with that kind of understanding, which changed the way they look at life as well. I think for each kid, it's a different story and the intensity of it also varies from child to child so we need to handle this situation very, very carefully," Mann elaborated.
The concerns are real as a latest survey by the government has revealed that a majority of school students' mental health has declined in the country. The survey findings were based on the responses of 3.79 lakh students in 36 states and Union Territories.
The 2022 NCERT survey found that changes in the schooling system like prolonged school closure, online classes, changes in Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams and postponement of exams directly affected lakhs of students.
According to Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Hospitals, they have seen an increase in behavioural issues in kids due to increase in internet usage, gaming, and excessive mobile use.
"It has led to irritability, disturbed sleep-wake schedule, irritable and demanding behaviour. These kids also display restlessness and conduct problems. Ways out to help these kids should be well coordinated, consistent logical ways to resolve problems," Malhotra told IANS.
Sr. Pramila Judith Vas, Principal of Fr. Agnel School in Greater Noida, said that the pandemic changed the education landscape dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning.
"Many parents suffered financially too and expressed their inability to pay fees. Counselling sessions were provided to the parents and their families. Supportive hand was extended to the students to cope up with their emotional responses," Vas told IANS.
Acting upon the study, the NCERT has now issued guidelines to schools for early identification and intervention of mental health problems among students.
Under the guidelines, they have recommended mental health advisory panels, mental health awareness programmes, and pedagogical support.
Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, said that children now need to refocus on the importance of physical activities, sports, arts, creativity, friends, learning social skills and communication with friends in the peer groups to effectively deal with the situation.
"Our initial focus needs to be an adjustment of children to mainstream schooling, so that they learn the routine, are able to enjoy it, focus a lot on their physical growth, development and sports and help them develop meaningful relationships. That's a way to look out and both parents and teachers need to have these goals in mind," Parikh noted.
Schools have also noticed that school kids are taking frequent breaks as they cannot sit for even 30-35 minutes in the class.
Mann said that once the pandemic situation eased and the school reopened, the first thing they did was to introduce the curriculum for social emotional learning.
"It has two components to it; one is financial literacy and the other is social emotional learning. It is all structured where we give an opportunity for children to have discussions with the teachers and express what they feel about a certain thing, without being judged for what is right and what is wrong," Mann told IANS.
Divya Mohindroo, a city-based counselling psychologist and mental health expert, said that parents need to keep a separate area or zone at home for studying and children should be told to do 'digital detox' and not use screens before sleeping and after getting up.
"Time management for the children should be balanced with giving them time to rest, nourish their body which includes eating well, hydrating well and at least 45 minutes of some physical activity they enjoy. Sharing the schedule and giving small incentives to them on achieving the tasks will help them strike a balance," she noted.