Prioritising students’ mental health during pandemic

Labiba Zoha

4 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Around 42 million children in Bangladesh continue to be affected by the closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to UNICEF.

Neither educational institutions nor students were prepared for such a prolonged campus closure and both faced a variety of challenges last year. The long closure since March last year has also affected the mental health of students.

“The education system has come to a standstill. Since schools and colleges remained closed and the lockdown is in place, it can be said that students are under house arrest. This has affected not only their physical health but also mental health and that’s the main concern,” said Prof Dr Akhter Hussain of the Department of Public Administration at Dhaka University.

The pandemic has spurred the adoption of distance learning at all education levels, but the transition has been all but effortless.

“The loss of education can be recouped. I am not worried about that. During the Liberation War in 1971, I had a gap for three years, but I overcame it. What I fear is the stunt students will face in their physical and mental development.”

In an interview, Dr Nigar Sultana, a psychiatrist specialising in general and child adolescent psychiatry at Evercare Hospital Dhaka, said, “University students are facing a lot of uncertainty. They’re losing time in semesters and their future plans have been shattered. Some students don’t know when they’ll be graduating and others are facing insecurity about their job prospects. This can cause anxiety and depression among them about their future.”

Talking to a number of students from schools and universities, it was found that most of them want better communications and more cooperation from teachers instead of being overburdened with more assignments as instructors think they have leisure time.      

“Teachers need to be more lenient with us as we’re all going through a horrible situation and facing uncertainty,” said a 22-year-old student from North South University.

“During these adolescent years, spending time with peers is very important. Constant stay at home during the lockdown can lead to conflicts with their parents. However, students now need to remind themselves not to further isolate them. They need to interact more with their families and friends online. Most importantly they need to get into a routine,” Dr Sultana said offering her professional advice to students.

“I would advise them to get exercise, go on walks with proper precautions, eat healthy food and work on something that excites them. Another piece of advice would be to stay off news sites as going through bad news constantly is not helpful. If the anxiety gets too bad, I encourage everyone to seek medical help. However, for everyone else I suggest focusing on yourselves and looking at the lockdown as an opportunity to do the tasks you enjoy or work on your skills. This can be very beneficial,” she further said.

Asked about changes that students would like to see from their teachers, a 16-year-old student from Delhi Public School of Dhaka said, “YouTube videos are more beneficial than classes. Online classes are not helpful, teachers don’t give enough attention. They give us too many assignments to keep us busy but it just causes stress.”

Anika Sharmin, academic coordinator and senior teacher at Canadian International School of Dhaka, said, “Students and teachers alike are not used to classes being digital and students tend to have lower concentration levels. Communications and the home environment are also a struggle.”

When it comes to younger children, Dr Sultana recommended, “I’ll urge the parents to help them in whatever ways they need. It’s especially scary for them because they might not be able to completely grasp the situation we’re in. The parents need to supervise their time online and keep a healthy communication line open with them so that the children can feel comfortable to come to their parents with their problems.”

Besides, the renowned psychiatrist advised university students to help people in need, saying, “If you have proper safety precautions and the means, try to help a neighbour, check up on a family member or someone who needs it, perhaps with food or medicine. Helping someone will have a positive emotional impact on you.”