How’s school reopening (and closing) is impacting the wellbeing of students, teachers, and parents?

“स्कूल के फिर से खुलने (और बंद होने) का छात्रों, शिक्षकों और अभिभावकों के हालचाल (वेलबीइंग) पर क्या प्रभाव पड़ रहा है?” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

“शाळा पुन्हा उघडणे (आणि बंद होणे) याचा विद्यार्थी, शिक्षक आणि पालक यांच्या आरोग्यावर कसा परिणाम होत आहे?” – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

Lockdown has impacted people differently. Some people were forced into months of unbroken solitude, some saw it as a positive experience, for some it was a welcome opportunity to slow down, go for walks and relax with a loving partner, or enjoy quality time with the children. Whichever way the lockdown played out, there has been one near-universal aspect of the past months which abruptly disrupted our daily routines and living arrangements in ways that would not normally occur. 

I and my co-travelers – my colleagues – have reflected on the experiences we noticed/witnessed for ourselves. 

My teaching journey started during the pandemic. It has been challenging to build an emotional connection with the students and the caregivers. We heard the media naming newborns as “pandemic babies”. I guess then, I am “a pandemic teacher”. My students and we all were trying to be comfortable with the online teaching and learning process. 

When the school reopening decision was announced, I personally felt uncomfortable going back to the classroom settings after such a long period. I had to unlearn the online mode of teaching, keeping students engaged, holding spaces for conversations, and so on. I had to begin from scratch again.  I was also happy to get into the physical space because I knew it will offer ample opportunities for the students to make learning effective, share more, understand each other better, build joyful places, etc. 

However, the way these decisions were made by authorities, we wonder about the impact of that on students’ learning and wellbeing, as well as that of teachers and families? 

Our wondering led us to reach out to more people in this sector to understand what has been their experiences with these decisions. We conducted interviews with 25 to 30 participants who are directly or indirectly working/supporting in the education sector (caregivers, helping staff, educators, social workers, students, and volunteers). Sharing some of the experiences of our interviewees here:

Parveen Shaikh, a primary teacher from one of the schools in the Mankhurd (Mumbai), shares, “When a child witnesses or notices their parents/caregivers being unemployed or they might have to change the city for survival due to sudden lockdown which adds distress, anxiety in the child’s mind and the body, where reading, numeracy, etc will be focussed until we do not meet their mental health needs. The 

Learning loss has been a big-time concern and the conversation for educators in pandemic which has added distress or uneasiness for them to cope with ongoing learning needs.

Priyanka Shrivastav, from Apni Shala’s Khoj team, shares “For me, the changes have been very disturbing as there was not enough time to process my emotions. I remember I entered the classroom after 20 months with a lot of confusion, and at the same time didn’t know where to seek answers from. This also led to morning anxiety as the uncertainty was constant”.

Alina, a volunteer from our classroom shares, “Due to the pandemic, life itself has become very difficult and the ever-changing dynamic, and with news of schools opening and closing creates confusion, not only in the minds of the teachers but also students.  Teachers need to opt for different techniques, strategies, and planning,  which becomes very stressful and creates feelings of anxiousness and doubts creeping in about how we will be able to give our hundred percent to the students.”

Purnima Kadam, Caregiver of our (Grade 1) student with learning needs. shares, “As a parent, it was difficult to manage my child’s transition from pre-primary to Class 1 in the online setting. My son was engaged in experiential learning in a physical school setting where he would receive constant stimulation through various activities to learn better. When he was on his journey of developing his learning/writing in classroom settings, the decision of lockdown hit his learning ability in the virtual classroom to explore further. Constant closing, opening, and reopening of the schools have impacted his routines which worried me about how adaption to constant changes and uncertainty will be handled by my son. 

Saesha Pillai, from Apni Shala’s Khoj team, shares, “Constant changes in the decisions of reopening or shutting down schools, makes me feel anxious and often trying to adapt to a daily changing scenario. The operational uncertainties made it difficult to focus on teaching and learning with children. Although it was crucial to have children come back to in-person schools to continue teaching and learning, the process of shifting from offline to online and back to offline and back to online again at a short notice, surely hampered our work and personal life and routines.”

Here are some experiences of our students: 

“I am not able to wake up early in the morning and sleep early at night. I feel lazy all day. I will be happy if the class timing is after 11 so that I can complete my sleep.” – Grade 1 student

“When school started I was very happy to be back in school but I was missing my mother, and brother in the class because they used to help me with my studies.” – Grade 1 student

“I love going to school to meet my friends, teachers, and helper didi with whom I can talk and play games.” – Grade 3 student

“I am very tired now with online classes. My math textbook has difficult sums which I am not able to do. If I was in school my teacher would have helped me.” – Grade 8 student

“When school started I was very worried about my pets  in the house to whom I was feeding.” Grade 2 student

With these feelings, anxiousness, and uncertainties, when schools reopen with a 1-week’s notice, and at times even 1 to 2 days, we wonder what happens to the well-being of young people, educators and families? 

We believe that the decision to re-open schools in person was in the best interest of students. However, if these decisions were adequately informed ahead of time, they could have supported teachers and families to prepare children, especially the young ones, for these transitions. An in-person school, above and beyond physical arrangements such as sanitizers and desks, also needs to account for the everyday realities of families and people involved, and the amount of planning, time, and resources that go into physically, cognitively, and emotionally transitioning.

To address this to some extent, we built classroom routines that make us mindful of our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, opened conversations on how everyone is feeling in their mind and body, and created time to settle down, and structure care. We assessed school-based learning needs and gaps (throughout the pandemic) and have brought them into our curriculum to address them. Our experiences of in-person school have just begun and we are in the process of learning what else needs to happen to ensure that students thrive in school.

When we look at the last few months, we wonder, what if – 

  • The stakeholders such as teachers and parents were involved in the decision-making or at least informed in advance so that they could be mentally prepared to face challenges to go into the physical classroom after almost 20 months with the same enthusiasm and energy?
  • Adequate time was planned for the transition from virtual classroom to physical classroom keeping well being at the center?

This brings us to the question: What are some possibilities to make this process smoother and meaningful at different levels – personal, community level, institutional and systemic?


About the authors:

Vanisha Shetty is a Grade 1 Teacher at Khoj, Apni Shala’s SEL-integrated school initiative. She holds an ECCED degree and Bachelors in Sociology. She works with 32 amazing young people to develop and nurture their wholesome development. She genuinely enjoys working with preschoolers. She believes that each child is unique, therefore they learn and thrive at their own pace. Apart from teaching, Vanisha loves to dance, travel, and do what makes her happy.

Mala Naidu works as a Helper with Khoj. She is also a parent of a Khoj student. She loves being around the students which motivates her to do her work in a more effective way to create a caring and loving environment for the young people, she enjoys traveling with her family members and cooking delicious food for them.

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