Psychologists say children are increasingly losing their social skills, feeling bored and experiencing stress
Labonya Rahman, a Grade V student of Monipur High School and College in the capital, used to be a jolly kid just seven months ago, playing with her friends in the afternoon every day.
But, after her school like other educational institutions was closed as per a government decision to check the spread of coronavirus, she got stuck at home. She could not go to school. Nor could she play with her friends.
She soon started to become gloomy, spending most of her time alone at home. Her banker father does not have much time to spend with her, while her mother has to remain busy taking care of another child and cooking food.
No teacher of her school contacts her although the Primary and Mass Education Ministry has asked teachers to stay in touch with students over mobile phones.
The situation is worse in private educational institutions, especially kindergartens, as teachers are trying to survive during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic instead of communicating with students. Some of them have even changed their profession.
Labonya is among five crore students studying at different levels from pre-primary to higher education, and most of them are now staying home.
This has taken a heavy toll on their mental health as they cannot play, spend time with friends and relatives or communicate with others.
Psychologists find children are losing their social skills, feeling bored, experiencing stress, changing their behaviour, and spending time on social media instead of playing.
They suggest parents take better care of their children during the pandemic and recruit consultants like psychiatrists to improve the mental well-being of their youngsters once educational institutions reopen.
Labonya told The Business Standard, "I used to see 80 classmates every day. But now I stay home with just my mother. I would like to go out, but my mother does not allow that. I want a free life."
Her father Mokhlesur Rahman said he is worried about his daughter's mental health.
"She was so lively but for a long time, we have not seen her smiling face. She keeps on telling us that she wants to go out. No teacher of her school communicates with her. Actually, she is now mentally distressed," he said.
Mainuddin, an eighth grader at Kutuba High School in Bhola's Borhanuddin upazila, was a very sociable child among his 120 peers. Now, he is mentally distraught as he cannot meet his friends and teachers.
"I feel very bad. I am not having a good time. I do not enjoy online classes either," he said.
His teacher Md Zabedur Rahman told The Business Standard that they cannot do anything to improve students' mental condition as most of them are out of touch.
"Many students have no mobile phones and a good number of them come from remote areas. So, we are unable to care for them properly," he added.
"We miss students' smiling faces. A few of them go out and roam around a bit but they do not seem to enjoy themselves," he said.
Professor Fougia, principal of Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, told The Business Standard that they conduct motivational activities after broadcasting each recorded class.
"Our teachers are very cordial about taking care of students' mental health. They try their level best to keep students happy," she added.
Kindergarten students left in the lurch
About one crore kindergarten and college students are now out of their studies. Many teachers left the profession as schools and colleges cannot pay salaries.
Although teachers have urged the government to allocate some funds for their survival, they have yet to get a response. As a result, they have stopped communicating with students.
"Our teachers are fighting for their survival. Their mental condition is not good at all. So, how will they care for the students?" asked Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad.
He said about 50% of 10 lakh teachers at 65,000 kindergartens will be forced to change their profession if the pandemic lingers in Bangladesh.
"Teachers are now living in a miserable condition. They cannot express it. Nor can they seek help from others," said Iqbal.
Government's steps to support students' mental health
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education on September 7 asked head teachers of government and Monthly Pay Order (MPO)-listed high schools to communicate with students over mobile phones to keep them mentally fit.
On September 5, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni said the ministry was thinking about recruiting psychologists across the country.
"Students have become mentally distressed due to the pandemic. We are thinking about hiring psychologists in each district, primarily. We will also appoint psychologists in each upazila who will train a male and a female teacher at each school," she explained.
What psychologists say
Professor Dr Mahfuza Khanam, chairperson of the psychology department at the University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard that students' mental condition is not good now, and they are affected psychologically as they are spending time alone.
"The government must appoint consultants to help students recover from emotional distress right after the reopening of educational institutions," she added.
Afroza Hossain, associate professor of psychology at the University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard that the pandemic is taking a toll on students' mental, social and spiritual health.
"Children are losing their social skills. They are experiencing emotional boredom. Their behaviours have also changed. It is likely they have turned social media platforms into virtual playgrounds," she said.
"Actually, parents must play an important role in helping children recover from this psychological distress. Teachers also must be more cordial to students," she added.
Some schools stand out
At a time when most of the students are not in touch with their schools, Shahajpath High School, an unconventional school in Dhaka, has set up a system that serves as an example for keeping things running smoothly by continuing academic activities using modern technologies.
Teachers of the school are also communicating with their students every day.
Trustees and teachers of the school said they took the initiative to keep students' morale high and to relieve them of boredom during the lockdown.
Rameesa Rashid Megh, a fifth-grader at the school, told The Business Standard she is passing her time in a joyful mood as she can talk to her teachers and can ask them any questions over Skype and other social media platforms.
"My teachers love me so much. They respond to me whenever I want. They also support me emotionally," she said.
Megh's father Harun-ur-Rashid said, "The school's activities are praise-worthy. They always take care of students, which is rare in the capital."
"The teachers hold meetings with us. They give guidelines to keep children free from mental pressure," he said.
"We are pleased that the teachers are doing a great job during this global crisis," he added.
The school has 400 students and 25 teachers. It is the only school in Dhaka where teachers have stayed in regular touch with students throughout the shutdown.