How will the Covid-19 era affect our youngest citizens?

Life or death has been the chief focus of the society as we froze for more than two months, watching and counting in sorrow Covid-19’s attack. But as the life-saving restrictions begin to loosen, attention is turning to the collateral damage. What imprint will the Covid-19 era leave on the children’s bodies and minds?

The government authorities are no doubt examining measures to ease the lockdown burden on children. The early childhood education experts pointed out that “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worse crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his/her bones have been formed, his/her blood is being made, and his/her senses are being developed. To him/ her we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’, his/her name is today”, said Gabriela Mistral – the Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and feminist. This quote perfectly surmises the need of the hour in terms of early childhood education and hence we should make an attempt to find a solution and bring clarity on the raging confusion today, among parents, schools and policy makers, regarding lockdown and post covid planning for our young children and about the necessity of ensuring that young children stay connected to their preschools even if remotely.

Trauma and loss have been at the centre of our lives for months now, along with uncertainty about the future, so increased anxiety and depression is normal. But these are particularly challenging times for these young citizens who are developing a sense of self identity through exploration of personal values, beliefs and goals. A child’s mental health, both now and into the future, is determined by their personality, emotional resilience and support systems. Their individual experiences throughout this crisis is going to have a significant impact as well.

Child education is everyone’s responsibility and we should come up with a way that helps in learning. Achieving a sense of safety and trust in the world is a key milestone of early childhood and we should try that children feel secure in their world so that they can explore and learn.

It is also a concern about the impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of all children as a result of social distancing – for example the limitations placed on who a child can hug. The potential extent of the damage this may have on a child development will be related to the child’s age and level of understanding. For example, a 15-year -old can make some sense of why it is necessary to limit who they touch but this is not the same for a young child.

Young children don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand why people are wearing face masks, why people are social distancing from them, and why they can no longer attend school or interact with their friends. Aside from the loss and social isolation they are being deprived of opportunities to engage in normal childhood activities, such as going to the local playground, children may come to perceive the world as an unsafe place. Social distancing is bewildering, unnatural and distressing for young children, and communicates the idea that other people are a threat and to be feared. There is increased loneliness and isolation, along with the other biological and lifestyle factors.

We can understand that children below the age of 10 should be kept safe at home but why are we trying to keep them away from all the activities that they thrive on? Parents are busy at home with dual responsibilities- working and taking care of the home, as there is no support staff now. How much time do you think they would be able to give to the young child? Children are watching all kinds of inappropriate content on television and mobile phones. It is important that young children of our country get their cognitive, social, emotional and language stimulation that they require. It is not always easy or possible for parents today to provide the same, due to many issues like living alone, struggling with too many responsibilities and the new fear of Corona.

The connection between the teacher and the child should continue even during the lockdown and till preschools or day-cares open. This is important because teachers can convey many messages and educate them about following a healthy routine, eating healthy and timely, brushing properly, taking bath on time, and also pass their time effectively and fruitfully with age-appropriate activities and lesson plans. Most parents come and tell us that their children are more adept to follow what the teacher says over what anyone else is saying. Let us use this fact now for the benefit of these young and innocent minds.

It is difficult for preschools to follow all activities similarly as previously when doing it over the internet but it is the need of the hour that we think about home schooling along with robust coordination between parents-schools-teachers.

Charles Darwin is rumoured to have said that it is not the smartest or most intelligent species that survive. But it is the one that adapts the fastest to change. We are in the midst of unprecedented change. Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has changed the dynamics of schooling, teaching and learning. Schools and school buildings have become two different things. Online learning has become mainstream. Parents are confused and uncertain about what to do. So are schools and teachers. At all times focus should be to deliver excellent high quality learning in schools.

The COVID pandemic is impacting millions of lives and our little ones are no exception to this. They are impacted by this as they are homebound, away from friends and their outdoor playtime. In these unprecedented times, it is our duty to make sure that we together as a community are able to develop a plan that helps in the learning and education of the children who are the future of our nation. Lets not compromise and get together to create a new normal.

All business owners should be clearly discussing the following points with teaching/non-teaching staff and parents. Everyone who is involved in childcare should know about these guidelines and instructions.

What is a ‘Novel’ coronavirus? A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for the disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV.’ This virus (from hereon referred to as COVID-19) is a new virus but linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.

How does COVID -19 spread? The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing), and by touching surfaces which are contaminated with the virus. COVID-19 may survive on surfaces for several hours, but simple disinfectants can kill it.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus? Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. This is why testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19. It’s important to remember that key preventive measures are the same – frequent hand washing, and respiratory hygiene (cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw away the tissue into a closed bin).

Does COVID-19 affect children? This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected by the virus, but so far there have been relatively few cases of COVID-19 reported among children. The virus is fatal in rare cases with so far mainly among older people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Steps to take to ensure a safe and corona free environment along with holistic learning:

Ensuring Uninterrupted Learning for all Students
Delivering High-Quality Learning in all Circumstances
Ensuring Student and Staff Safety
Learning Strategy – Integrated online-offline strategy
School Operations Strategy
School timings to ensure that social distancing between the children is practiced properly.
Attendance norms and time-table – Some children can be allowed to take up homeschooling with proper lesson planning so that they are on par with other students.
Classroom seating arrangement should be such that students are at least 6 feet apart, all these factors should be treated as very important factors.
Health and Hygiene Protocols
Sanitization and health measures to be enforced in schools.
Student and staff hygiene and safety to be given preference.
Food and water safety – Students should be encouraged to ideally bring their own food and water.
Medical Support At School
Action to be taken if someone is ill. – Anyone with fever, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing (shortness of breath), feeling fatigued (weak or tired), having difficulty tasting food and drinks, having difficulty smelling normally should not be allowed in the campus
Action to be taken if someone is confirmed to be COVID-19 positive -The student/staff should not be allowed into the school premises and should be placed under quarantine for the duration recommended by the health and education department. The details of this person should be entered in the ‘Aarogya Setu’ app.
Action to be taken if someone is exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient – The student/staff should not be allowed into the school premises and should be placed under quarantine for the duration recommended by the health and education department. The details of this person should be entered in the ‘Aarogya Setu’ app.
Roles and Responsibilities
Teachers – It is the need of the hour that these young citizens will need more psychological support as well as more attention in academics. Their safety should be the first concern.
Non-teaching staff- Should ensure all entry-exit rules/procedures are followed, regular sanitization and disinfection of places/items on school properties, Appropriate social distancing seating arrangement.

It should be a family decision to send the child to school or not. Each family may be going through a different circumstance. In any case the school should help the young children to have a smooth learning experience with the collaboration of the parents.

O Loving God of Life, God of Compassion,
As crisis is shaking our world, we turn to you with all our worries,
For our loved ones, for our societies, for jobs and economies,
And for how the most vulnerable among us will be affected.
Transform uncertainty and fear into love and care
Give us courage, wisdom and consolation
Trusting in the power of Almighty, we pray
For the sick and those who are caring for them,
For the researchers who are working to find medicine and vaccine,
For those who must make difficult decisions that affect many.
For international cooperation in the service of justice and peace
For spiritual leadership that is faithful to your will.
For all the children who are waiting to come back to their classrooms
For all the children for whom their teachers are the superheroes
Help us to hold on to what is right, true and beautiful,
Our Almighty, our savior and healer, help all of us make the right decision.

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