This article is in conjunction with World Children’s Day which falls on Nov 20.
KUALA LUMPUR: As the 2020 school year drew to a close on
Nov 9, parents and teachers could not help but reflect on how much the Covid-19 pandemic had affected Malaysian schoolchildren’s daily lives and studies.
On the last day of school, a primary school teacher in Seremban, affectionately known as ‘Cikgu Ila’, posted this message on her Year 1 pupils parents’ WhatsApp group: “I’ve already packed your children’s books. Later I’ll let u know when to come to the school to collect them.
“I feel sad as I go about clearing the classroom. Who could guess 2020 would end like this. We are forced to part without any speech or message for the pupils. After this (next year), the children will go to the second year.”
She also attached some photographs of the deserted classroom. Her pupils’ books, neatly packed and arranged on their desks, were a reminder of their rather brief stint in schools this year. Some of the parents were moved to tears by her message and photos.
“Sad to see ‘Cikgu’ packing up our children’s books. They only managed to go to school for a few months. They didn’t even have the chance to get to know their classmates better,” said one parent.
“Sad our children did not get to know each other or the chance to explore Year 1. It has been an ordeal for all of us,” said another parent.
Limited social interactions
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted children’s lives and disrupted their daily activities.
Malaysian schoolchildren, for example, were barely in school for three months when schools were shuttered following the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18. Although schools reopened in the middle of the year, the children returned to a totally different environment due to the need for them to wear masks and practise physical distancing, as well as eat at their own desks during the break.
Are children at risk of developing mental and emotional issues in view of the new norms that are forced on them?
Child psychologist Dr Noor Aishah Rosli acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic had had an impact on children in terms of their emotional, cognitive and behavioural aspects.
Children, particularly those aged between four and 11, by nature are cheerful and love to mingle and play with their friends; however, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically limited their interactions, she told Bernama.
“They could no longer go out and play with their friends at the playground or go to shopping malls with their parents. They have to stay at home as it is the safest place for them.
“Besides these social changes, some children feel stressed and fearful when their family members are obsessed with using sanitisers and face masks, and paranoid about getting infected by the virus.
“We also have to take into consideration children who come from different backgrounds – some of them may be living in big houses, but there are also those who live in congested dwellings with their big families. All these factors can influence their emotions, attitude and behaviour,” said Dr Noor Aishah, who is also a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling.
At a time when even adults are reeling from the effects of the pandemic, children need all the moral support they can get from their parents to remain motivated and keep themselves up-to-date with their studies and adapt to the new normal way of life.
Niena Najwa Mohd Rashid, a clinical psychologist at Pusat Pakar Psikologi Jiwadamai in Shah Alam, said among the challenges children might face were learning-related problems including illiteracy as this year’s limited formal schooling session had left syllabuses uncompleted.
“Learning online in an informal setting at home can affect their concentration and focus. Furthermore, not all children have access to Internet facilities, computers and printers.”
She said in this respect, the government should consider providing free Internet access or setting up Internet centres to ensure that children from needy communities would not be left behind in their studies, as a result of the pandemic.
According to Unicef Data Hub on the website https://data.unicef.org/covid-19-and-children/, at least one-third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when the Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to close.
The actual number of students who could not be reached during the pandemic was likely to be significantly higher than this estimate. In many situations, despite remote learning policies and the presence of the necessary technology at home, children might be unable to learn due to skills gaps among their teachers or a lack of parental support.
Dr Noor Aishah, meanwhile, said parents played a crucial role in monitoring the academic progress of their children whose classes were being conducted online.
She said with the experience they had gained during the initial phases of the MCO, they should now probably be better prepared mentally and have the necessary devices to facilitate the e-learning process.
She, however, advised parents not to feel too stressed if they were not able to follow the online sessions with their children.
“It’s not easy for parents to supervise their children, especially if they’re working from home and have a number of children whose online classes they have to manage. — Bernama