COVID-19 is a pandemic caused by the strain of the coronavirus. COVID-19 stands for ‘CO’ corona, ‘VI’ virus, ‘D’ disease, and ‘19’ the year. Therefore, it was formally referred to as ‘2019-nCoV’ or ‘2019 novel coronavirus’. This virus is linked to some old viruses, such as the common cold and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Recently, CDC reports virtual learning has affected children’s mental health and diminished their outdoor activity time.
This pandemic has resulted in a dramatic loss of life worldwide. It even harbors an unprecedented challenge to the food systems, education, economy, public health, and the whole world of work. The turmoil due to the COVID-19 in the social, economic, and education sectors is devastating. Its effect is even more drastic on the countries and states that have already been dealing with emergencies and humanitarian crises.
The Impact on Education
The functionality and outcome of the worldwide education system are overwhelmed by the pandemic called COVID-19. Some aspects of the system were previously stressed in several respects, and they are struggling even more. The pandemic has affected education and children worldwide, but differently, depending on certain factors, such as the region, ages of students, family background, level of development in the country, and the degree of accessibility of some alternate educational opportunities.
Almost overnight, the spread of COVID-19 forced the system to cancel the traditional learning taking place in the formal school settings.
When the virus first reached its peak in the early spring, around 55 million school children in the U.S. under the age of 18 were confined in their homes. Also, around 1.4 billion children were out of childcare or school across the globe. It not only stopped children’s daily access to school, but it also deprived them of the basic supports provided by the institutes.
Students lost out on recreational options like the playgrounds, pools, gyms, team sports, group activities, and other extracurricular activities. It also made the students lose the compassionate pieces of advice given to them by the staff member to help boost their self-esteem, handle pressure, and cope with any loss or trauma.
The schools’ lockdown initially started in the early months of 2020, greatly reduced learning and instructional time. In addition, it impeded the performance of students, having conflicting effects on groups of students.
The Mental Health of Students
Although the exact impact is not clear, it is known that these restrictions during the pandemic have greatly affected the academic performance of children and have deteriorated their skill development process. It is also clear that the already existing socioeconomic disparities have widened in various ways, affecting the educational and learning outcomes. This has resulted in growing educational inequities.
The pandemic COVID-19 has presented many challenges to the students, parents, and educators. The children who already had some mental health issues have been even more vulnerable to the sudden and prolonged changes. And with time, the long-term devastating effects on children of school closure, isolation, physical distancing guideline are becoming visible.
29 percent of parents complain about their children experiencing mental and emotional harm caused by school closure and social distancing. In addition, 14 percent of parents are concerned that their children have almost reached their limit and can only handle social distancing for a few more weeks since their mental health is suffering.
Even though the number of COVID-19 patients being children is relatively low in the U.S., there are other problems the children are facing due to the measures taken in response to the pandemic.
A Survey by CDC
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of parents with children aging between 5 and 12, from October 08, 2020, to November 13, 2020, and its report was published on Thursday, March 19, 2021, in the weekly report of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly by CDC. From this survey, it was determined that the level of stress of children who had in-person instructions was comparatively lower than the children who underwent computer learning alone or a combination of both distance and in-school learning.
The stress caused by the pandemic alone was too much, but then it got combined with the lack of regular support and the impact it was having on the parents’ workability. This was stated by the director of the adolescent and school health division of CDC, Kathleen Ethier.
The survey conducted by CDC shows that both parents and children have suffered through the effects of remote learning on their physical and mental health. In addition, the pandemic conditions have taken a toll on them even if they did not get affected by the virus itself.
The survey included 1,290 parents. Children of 45.7 percent had only remote learning, 30.9 percent underwent in-person instructions by going to school, and children of 23.4 percent parents received both.
When compared, it was concluded from what was reported by the parents that children who received virtual learning had worse outcomes and a higher level of stress than those who physically went to school to get in-person teaching.
It was reported that children who received virtual learning experienced a 62.9 percent fall in the amount of physical activity, 58.0 percent less time spent outside, 86.2 percent fall in in-person friend time, 24.3 percent decrease in virtual friend time, and 24.9 percent fall in the emotional and mental health.
Whereas children who received in-person instructions experienced a 30.3 percent fall in physical activity, 27.4 percent fall in the time spent outside, 69.5 percent physical friend time, 12.6 percent decrease in virtual friend time, and 15.9 percent fall in the emotional and mental health.
Children who underwent both in-person and virtual learning suffered on these measures but to a comparatively lesser extent.
Children who were educated remotely also face many difficulties and challenges such as loss of work, difficulty sleeping, emotional stress, worse outcomes, etc.
From the survey findings, it can be said that virtual learning presents a higher level of risk, as compared to physical education, related to the emotional, mental, and behavioral health of both parents and children.
Unexpected, Extreme Consequences
All this has led to a rise in the rate of suicide in children. Dr. David Greenhorn is an emergency room doctor at a hospital in the UK. He highlighted to the Associated Press that suicide in children is another big issue that people do not recognize yet, but it can become an international epidemic. He explained that a year is quite a long time for a child who is only 8 years old. So, the pandemic year seems never-ending to them, making them tired and fed up.
Not just children, even Young adults have been greatly hurt by the restrictions implemented during the lockdown. CDC found that almost 25.5 percent of American Young adults aged between 18 and 24 considered attempting suicide.
What the Future Holds
On Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of CDC, said that an updated guidance plan would soon be released related to school openings. It may include shortening the recommended distance for appropriate social distancing, changing it from six feet to three feet. She also showed her concern about the devastating effect on the children’s mental health, claiming that they are doing their best to get the schools open, so life can somewhat return to normal.
With the relaxation in the social distancing guidelines, educational institutes start to develop plans to support their students’ growth and learning. Along with that, they will have to develop new ways to aid students’ emotional and social needs as they start to reacclimate to physical school learning. It will be more challenging than before since institutes will be doing experiments with new ideas and processes to fight the ever-present threat of coronavirus to public health.
Collaboration between families, schools, health officials, community leaders will be of keen importance for the betterment of children.