25 September 2020
KOMF through its member organizations has followed the education process during the first two weeks. In addition to taking measures for a safe return to school due to the pandemic, which was at the same time the main focus from all parties, KOMF raises as a vital and very important issue, the protection of children’s mental health during this phases of return to schools.
The global Covid-19 pandemic, for months has caused a paralysis of many spheres of life, with radical and immediate changes in our way of living. This extraordinary situation, coupled with total uncertainty about the future, partial deprivation of liberty, separation from our loved ones and forced cessation of daily activities, has produced anxiety and trauma in every individual, especially in the most vulnerable groups such as children.
The closure of schools was one of the main factors that caused chaos in the lives of children and among other things aroused fear and insecurity among them. Closure of schools in March 2020, was mandatory and accelerated as a result of the outbreak of the pandemic, leaving no room to make the process more gradual and acceptable for children. KOMF estimates that the opening of schools has been done in almost the same way, without sufficient preparatory steps developed in cooperation or with the participation of children and parents.
The Ministry of Education and Science has defined the model for starting the education process, the division of classes into groups, combined learning, etc. However, not enough consultation (or virtual) sessions have been held with children and parents to inform and prepare them about what is expected to happen in schools at the beginning of the year. KOMF also considers that there has not been sufficient consultation with students regarding the division into classes and there has been a lack of a unified approach to grouping which would minimize dissatisfaction between students. As a result, the division of students into two groups has often separated children from close friends, which has negatively affected their enthusiasm and willingness to return to school. Also, the dilemmas about starting the education process and postponing the start date of school, the lack of proper preparations, have significantly affected the psychological situation of children, especially when we consider the aggravated situation over the last months. Mental health, like physical health, has an immense importance in ensuring the development of children in full accordance with their best interests.
It is vital that schools, institutions, teachers and all service providers first ensure that children are gradually adapted and accepted by themselves to the environments where they receive services, to feel safe, secure and protected. This is also stated in the guidelines issued by professionals in the field of mental health and child development. Among other things, a group of experts from several universities in England, in a call to the education authorities in May 2020, underlined the fact that with the opening of schools the authorities must prioritize play, socialization and mental health of children over formal learning. and academic progress as poor mental health can lead to long-term mental health problems.
Given all this situation, in order to protect the mental health of children, KOMF recommends:
- MoES, Municipal Directorates of Education and schools, in addition to taking measures according to the Guideline for returning to schools, should see the possibility of engaging additional technical and professional staff. The engagement of professional staff, as well as the engagement of additional psychologists and social workers, is more than necessary in this difficult period;
- Teachers to conduct custody classes but also conduct other classes during the week, developing discussion hours on difficulties, problems and mental health, in order to support children and protect their health. In this way the whole system prioritizes the emotional well-being of children and their mental health, and at the same time guarantees support to anyone in need of help;
- Teachers to organize as many recreational activities with children in order to relieve stress and anxiety; In this period, children’s emotional balance should be the first consideration;
- Teachers should organize online meetings with parents to discuss the importance of children’s mental health and the role of parents in this regard;
- Teachers should organize regular online meetings with all students in the class, where they will have the opportunity to meet with classmates who have not met so far due to the separation that has been made.