For tens of thousands of students who will be returning to schools, the first day ritual will be tinged with anxiety, if not fear, as they begin a new academic year unlike the previous ones.
While remote learners will be confronting more days again at home glued to computer screens, those back in classrooms will be masked, distancing from each other with no hugs to avoid the risk of catching the coronavirus infections and washing hands from time to time.
Yet, there is no lack of excitement among both teachers and students. They are all enthusiastic to go back to their schools. This was evident from what my friend’s son said, “I’m really thrilled to go back since it’s my senior year. I’m bored and want to see my friends again. I was really scared about the virus in the beginning. Now I am not as I got the first dose of the vaccine”.
With infection rates declining nationally, it is appreciable that the Ministry of Education has recommended to the Supreme Committee tackling the Covid-19 situation in the country to get the kids back into classrooms.
Despite the shared concern of parents and even teachers over the health of the students, the need to give students a proper education through in-person attendance at schools is also a shared wish.
At the same time, with the start of the new academic year, a new phase begins in the education process, which has great hopes and high ambitions, although it is fraught with many concerns this year. This calls for our educational institutions to ensure that they extend all essential support — especially psychological — to students.
I am not saying our schools lack clarity of plans, programmes or a work mechanism. Along with educational priority, the authorities should work out ways that would absorb the anxiety of both parents and their wards.
Teachers should be able to correct student choices while enforcing health protocols in such a way that the initiative will absorb the psychological trauma of the pupils. Presence of psychological components in teaching methods and learning environments will pave for a safer school year.
In other words, the schools must have all the necessary tools including counselling and guidance programmes that will help students to acquire positivity, confidence and optimism. This, on the other hand, will finally help them find a safe space to eliminate anxiety and fear that is associated with the presence of the virus and strengthen their immunity in adapting to the new circumstances and developments.
Similarly, teaching and administrative staff should possess a new language that accommodates the student’s changing psychological needs that will help them get required care whether related to buses, distribution of students in the classrooms etc.
No doubt, a psychological component has its position and presence in the package of procedures, teaching methods, student learning philosophy and the operational plan approved by the Supreme Committee.
Hence it is the responsibility of schools to adopt clear frameworks in achieving psychological readiness on the one hand, and on the other, the authorities should ensure initiatives that would create productive awareness of work rules among the school staff and ensure sound health practices by students.