The United Nations estimates that at least 1 billion learners have been affected globally by the closure of schools due to the pandemic. With the pandemic continuing to evolve, the world is likely to face a “generational catastrophe” in education (United Nations, 2020). The World Bank estimates, moreover, that close to 7 million young people could drop out of school as a result of the pandemic. There are global concerns regarding the effects of the lockdown and pandemic on education. Moreover, there is a severe impact on the mental well-being of students and educators. The youth, protagonists of the future have been severely impacted due to the pandemic. Mental health is another pandemic as per a recent study. With online classes, both educators and students have been highly affected.
A study conducted by the Dasra Adolescents Collaborative to understand the loss on education, from the perspective of adolescent- and youth-serving organisations, in understanding the effects of the Covid-19 on the youth of India discovered that – over a quarter of all responding organisations had received reports of students going hungry because of the loss of their mid-day meal. More than two-thirds (69 percent) reported that young people had described social isolation resulting from limited access to their friendship networks or peer groups. The study was conducted through an online survey that probed the effects of the lockdown on young people’s life. A total of 111 organisations responded to the survey and elaborated on the reports they received from young people, and modifications made to their on-ground efforts, to continue keeping young people at the centre of their work.
About one in seven organisations reported that no action had been taken in the areas they served. Findings suggest that, despite the availability of online classes or materials, limited access to technology or uninterrupted network access inhibited many students from acquiring an education.
For example, only 10-12 percent of organisations reported that most students had regular access to devices and networks. Four in five responding organisations reported that they had taken action to support young people’s access to education during the lockdown. Two in five had developed online materials (38 percent), almost half (48 percent) had created WhatsApp groups to facilitate learning, while one-third (32 percent) had provided individual or group coaching either by telephone or, when possible, in-person coaching facilities (27 percent). Some responding organisations also supported local girl champions to hold group classes (18 percent), while others had organised webinars to build new skills, such as art, writing, preparing audio-visuals and raising awareness about Covid-19. However, one-fifth (21 percent) were not able to address young people’s schooling needs.
Gender disparities may also widen. Access to digital education tools and technology in India has always been heavily gendered, with a 2017 study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India stating that less than half as many women in the country had access to the internet as men. The gendered distribution of mobile phones among the young is further visible in areas where access to phones is limited. Girls are, therefore, less likely than boys to have regular access to online classes, at higher risk of being withdrawn from school, and subsequently, more likely to marry early. The growing shift towards technology-based education, therefore, is likely to reverse the trend of narrowing the gender gap in secondary school completion that the country had previously achieved. Girls and young women are at increased risk of being withdrawn from or dropping out of school during crises, as a result of the sharp increase in domestic and care work, and growing economic disparity requiring girls to supplement familial income. Girls are often made to discontinue their education and are married to alleviate the family’s financial burden.
Overall Impact on Mental Health
In the current scenario, where the pandemic has taken control over the lives of people, there is an emergency of mental health issues and students and teachers are severely hit due to lockdown and online classes have created a huge void in the learning process.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), in India, over 90 million people are going through mental health issues and need immediate active intervention. According to the National Mental Health Survey 2016, there are only 0.05 psychiatrists for every 100,000 population.
The scale and extent of the challenge calls for consistent and concerted efforts to make education during Covid-19 a more inclusive and accessible process. In these dire times, mental health needs to be given high importance. According to World Happiness Report 2017, India – among the world’s least happy nations and ranked 122 among 155 countries – slipped to 133 among 155 countries in the World Happiness Report of 2018. This calls for serious and timely intervention, given the current times of the pandemic.
According to American Psychiatric Association, mental illness is a health condition – change in emotional behavior mood- distress, which is affected by the society – work environment. There is a possibility that if students have difficulty in adjusting to “the new normal,” or are afraid of the uncertainty, they could begin to experience high anxiety that will affect many aspects of their lives: their social connections, their physical health, and indeed, their performance in school.
With the onset of Covid-19, education has become virtual – creating huge barriers for students living in areas where internet connection remains poor. The impact has been more tragic in areas where internet connectivity is weak. This digital divide has impacted the lives of several girls. Drop-out rates have increased and girl child education has hit a new low. Gender and mental health are closely linked and the pandemic has made it even more visible.
With the uncertainty of reopening of schools, children and teachers are under stress and uncertainty. With no contact with friends, teachers – students and teachers are going through immense emotional and psychological stress and trauma.
“The concerns like safety, physical distancing, transport problems and the emotional adaptability to the changed circumstances should be addressed cautiously”, said a Delhi-based school educator – Oshin Singh.
Consequently, the need of the hour is to deal with the situation with empathy and compassion. Emotional literacy through counselling sessions for students, teachers and parents need to be brought about for a holistic approach, alongside meditation and breathing exercises. In order to fight the negative impact of the pandemic, collective action needs to be facilitated.