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Managing back-to-school anxiety amidst pandemic

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STARTING a new school year can be quite stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic.The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions to daily life and children are feeling these changes deeply.

Parents have gradually become teachers, homeschooling their children, while most children are gradually forgetting what school feels like as Nigeria’s coronavirus cases continue to rise. It is now over four months since the government ordered the shutdown of schools to control the rapid spread of the virus. Academic sessions have been disrupted for students at all levels and everyone had expected the shutdown to be brief, just enough to contain the spread of the virus; after which it is expected that life should return to normal life. But this hasn’t happened.

Now the Nigerian government has opened schools for exit classes only, to enable them partake in the forthcoming WAEC exams, slated to take off on August 17, 2020, and students in exit classes have returned back to school, while other children alongside their parents are hoping that schools will resume properly after the exams. The returns to school will, not only be welcomed but very exciting for most students, while the ‘No-Go-School’ type will be feeling anxious or frightened. So it will not only be good but essential to start now in helping these children navigate some of the complicated emotions they may be facing with going back to school.

Commenting on the issue, Mrs Emmanuella Nwadike, a secondary school teacher said: “It is a ‘back to school’ season like no other; countries are beginning to reopen their school gates following weeks of enforced closures as a result of COVID-19 outbreak. Education authorities around the world must urgently prepare for in-school learning to start up again, knowing that schools and students face unprecedented challenges in the wake of the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite the uncertainty about the end of the pandemic, we must start planning the reopening of schools now.When children will eventually return to school, it will likely look very different from before. They may find out that they are in a smaller class, have a different teacher, or are unable to sit next to their classmates. Play equipment areas may also be off-limits; certain COVID-19 protocols like wearing face masks, washing of hands at intervals and keeping social distancing are likely to be tough, especially for the youngest children. It is important that parents start to be strict in making sure that their children are observing some of these rules like washing of hands, using sanitisers and other hygiene protocols that can be practiced at home so that when they get to school, these acts will not be new to them.

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“Moreover, parents should endeavour to always check their children’s schools’ websites from time to time to update themselves on information and announcements about last-minute changes the school may wish their children to have.Then, just before schools resume, parents should help their children to start getting to bed earlier,may be one or two weeks before school re-opens. This is never going to be easy as the children are now used to not going to school, going to bed late and waking up at their own time. So starting early to force them go to bed and wake up just as if they are already going to school will make going back to school easier when school eventually resumes.

“It is strongly advised that parents have open conversation with their children about the situation, no matter their age, asking them specific questions about their feelings. For example, I asked my five-year old daughter, who should soon be in Nursery 3 the following: ‘what do you miss the most about being in school? What are the things you don’t miss? How is learning this new way working for you?  I tell you, her responses to the questions were wonderful, but then, you will not expect every five-year-old to be able to have this conversation, so parents can still bring the questions down to their children’s cognitive level.

“Again, before the school resumes, it is important that parents make out time to teach, coach their children/wards, especially the younger ones who might have forgotten what the classroom is all about. The essence of this coaching, mind restructuring is to help ease the children’s memory into learning, refreshing them to the point where they left off from e-learning.  This is expected to make the transition into the classroom witness less anxiety and become a source of provocation to them.

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“Also, it is quite necessary for parents to go through their children’s school accessories like school uniforms, bags, books, shoes and other items to make sure that they are all in order and possibly make replacements where necessary. For those of them that traveled to different places during the lockdown, parents should equally ensure that they bring them back at least three weeks before the resumption, so that they will have enough time to ascertain their health status, give them adequate medication if need be, and get them prepared morally, physically and mentally for resumption. For children that might show any symptom of COVID-19 or any other ailment, parents should ensure they take adequate health measures such as taking them to the hospitals for proper health assessment and treatment.  No sick child is expected to resume classes with others to avoid the spread of the disease amongst other children knowing fully well that children find it difficult to maintain distances”.

On his own part, Mrs Justina Ikwumelu, a civil servant and a parent said: “I am just happy that the schools are gradually resuming in Nigeria. I strongly believe that proper resumption will commence after the forthcoming exams, and I also believe that schools will continue to observe the COVID-19 protocols to keep the children and every staff of the school environment safe.  I also urge the school authorities and government to ensure that all the necessary equipment required for safety are provided and teachers should endeavor they highly monitor their students to ensure they observe the COVID-19 protocols, and if any child displays any sign of illness, the teacher should immediately report to the school authorities, who are expected to make necessary calls to the adequate health authorities.

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“For the primary school pupils, their teachers have more work ahead of them, because it is more difficult to make them observe the social distancing because, a normal child will always want to play, mingle with other children, no matter how often you try to separate them. So, there is a great need to reduce the number of children in a class to a minimal level. Again, for the secondary school students, form teachers should be assigned to stay with the students in their classes to make sure they always observe the hygiene protocols.

“To achieve the expected level of safety in this pandemic when they eventually resume school, all hands should be on deck, that is parents, teachers, government at all levels and all educational stakeholders have huge roles to play. Children should be given the necessary sensitisation on the necessity of observing the strict measures of COVID-19 no matter how difficult it may seem to them by both parents at home and teachers in the schools. The government on their own part should provide the needed hygiene equipment and equally mobilise a taskforce on COVID-19 for schools, to monitor the rate of compliance by pupils, students and teachers in their various schools”.

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