As Kenyan learners settle in their new school routines following the disruptions of 2020, it is important for schools and educators to understand that extra care must be taken to ensure they are not just continuing with their educational journeys, but that they also receive the support they need to ensure their mental and emotional wellbeing, education experts say.
It has been so wonderful to welcome our students back to our campuses, the energy is palpable and the excitement clear. However, we are very aware of the fact that 2020 took its toll on everyone, not least school-going children, and that they return after a year that for many would have been traumatic, frustrating, lonely and isolating.
The past year has had a significant impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of most people, and young children have not escaped the impact of Covid-19 and the curfews in this regard.
A September report by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), noted that Covid-19 affected children directly and indirectly beyond getting sick,or the threat of them, or their loved ones falling ill. Many children’s social, emotional, and mental well-being have been impacted by the pandemic.
Listed as contributing factors to this impact were – : changed routines, breaks in continuity of learning, breaks in continuity of healthcare, significant life events that were missed and loss of safety and security.
Simply put, the students we said goodbye to last year when schools closed due to Covid-19, are not the same students who recently returned to us. They were faced with unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty for months on end, and some even the loss of loved ones, and these experiences would have, to varying degrees, impacted on their mental and emotional wellbeing.
It should not be business as usual for the time being. We as educators need to be aware that on top of the demands of providing the highest quality of academic excellence, we should also be cognisant that our students may require increased levels of compassion, support and empathy, until we’ve settled into our new routines under what remains unusual circumstances which include social distancing and wearing of masks.
In the ADvTECH group of schools which include Crawford International School and Makini, we have embraced pastoral care in education as a way of ensuring children are safe, engaged, involved and able to fulfil their potential.
We cannot expect things to pick up where they left off ten months ago and we as educators must aim to be more empathetic and flexible. Returning to the new normal while we are still dealing with the challenge of Covid-19 will take time.
It is also important to remember that there will be gaps in learning, because some students could continue online, while some could not.
So while we are phasing in, expectations must be tempered and education needs to happen on more fronts than purely academic. We have seen Covid-19 again underscore the importance of the cultivation of 21st Century and Soft Skills, so we as educators have an important role to play during this time of transition, to help our students build their resilience and growth mind-sets.
It is heartening to see how enthusiastic students and their families, as well as educators, are about the return to physical school.
Even if things remain a little strange, getting back into a routine provides a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, that life may slowly be returning to normal. And with our schools now open again, it’s almost as if there is some energy being generated again that will be to the benefit of the whole nation.
While the past year came with unprecedented challenges, it has also led to some remarkable stories of resilience and growth under difficult circumstances. 2020 showed that when one is under pressure, you should adapt and see how you can do things differently.
For instance, look to live streaming, additional offerings and more options. However, all being said and done, student needs are better served when they can learn within a safe, supportive and structured environment, surrounded by their peers where possible. While we still have a way to go to put the effects of 2020 behind us, 2021 provides a fresh start for all educators to re-connect with the young people in their care, and provide them with a solid foundation for the future.
Written by Jenny Coetzee, Managing Director at Crawford International School Kenya and Angelica Ouya, Education Director at the Makini Group of Schools