The COVID-19 public health crisis has presented our communities around the globe with unprecedented health, socioeconomic, and human rights challenges. While the virus does not discriminate, health disparities caused by poverty, racism, and other social ills has led to stark inequalities in terms of which communities have been most severely impacted by COVID-19. The constant flood of information on these compounding challenges add to our worry of being infected by the virus, concerns over job security and economic upheaval, and loneliness caused by social isolation. This overwhelming multitude of fears and concerns can lead to major psychological risk factors, such as anxiety, depression, and so on.
India is one of the severely affected countries and is trying its best to overcome the crisis and adapt to the new reality. Nearly all the nations have responded to this public health crisis in part by closing their schools, affecting close to 80 per cent of the world’s school-going population, according to data from the World Bank. While children seem to be less vulnerable to severe illness resulting from COVID-19, staying away from school contributes to a tragic situation for children, particularly those who rely on schools as a safe learning space, for feeding programmes that provide a main source of nutrition, and for fulfilment of their social and emotional needs.
Education thought leaders around the globe have identified Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as a major priority for educators to focus on as education systems work to rapidly transition to remote learning while attempting to mitigate the widening of achievement gaps that result from existing digital divides (WHO, USESCO). The challenge of providing SEL is all the more daunting in light of the reality that the teachers and adults who children turn to for social and emotional support are themselves likely to be struggling with their own mental health challenges during this time. Survey findings released recently by the Collaborative for Social-Emotional and Academic Learning and Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence showed that US teachers’ most commonly cited emotions during this crisis are feeling anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad. Teachers cited worry over themselves or loved ones contracting COVID, but also the anxiety they feel over trying to juggle caring for their own families at home while also trying to work full time from home and figuring out how to transfer their teaching practice to online platforms, which many have very little, if any experience of using.
While these challenges are difficult to process, let alone allow us the mental latitude to think of solutions, the present situation can be viewed as a wake-up call that we must heed as we re-imagine how our education systems can better support psychosocial well-being as a foundation for learning going forward.
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