With children not in schools, adults must learn new lessons

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It was the end of October and Phu Thanh Mai was stressed. The HCMC resident couldn’t wait for schools to reopen for her two sons, one in elementary and one in high school.

It has been two years since they were able to attend school normally as a result of the Covid-19 related lockdown. Instead, they had to attend online classes.

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Mai said that prolonged virtual learning has had many negative effects on her children.

The boys were struggling to keep up with their studies, especially those in elementary school. It was easy to get distracted by games and other entertainment channels when they were doing their homework independently. Mai has to work closely with them every day to ensure that they perform well in their regular exams. This was in addition to her work in the office and at home.

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Mai said she was also concerned about their physical health. The boys could not do the exercises regularly as this would disturb the neighbors in the building. They missed the swimming lessons they had paid for before the summer. Constant online study deteriorated the vision of one of her sons. The mother also noticed that her children became less interested in communicating with others.

“I am concerned about its long-term development,” Mai said.

Mai children are among more than 7.3 million students in 26 cities and provinces in Vietnam who have been involved in online learning for a long time, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Education and Training in mid-September.

In Hanoi, Tran Mai Hang, who also has two children, shared Mai’s concerns about extended homeschooling.

She said she was doing her part by trying to talk to her children and understand their true interests, encouraging them to do chores and learning to cook new dishes as part of activities to maintain their physical and mental health. Besides, she urged them to join family contests with their cousins ​​and even write about various topics including the effects of Covid.

But she added that her son has a heavy learning schedule as he prepares to enter high school next year and her daughter has not been to school since 2020. While parents can help children with their learning, they cannot replace professional teachers, and this gap is very worrying.

Taesung An, a South Korean father of an 11-year-old daughter in Hanoi, said the biggest challenge was the daughter losing important parts of the lesson when she lost focus. Teachers couldn’t explain right away unless you understood or followed closely because they had a time limit in which they had to teach all the kids. So Ahn and his wife divided the subjects they needed to “learn” to help their daughter with homework, he said.

Ahn and his wife were also concerned about the girl’s physical condition, including her eyesight being affected by the long stare at the screen. It was also clear that she misses her friends and school, which is difficult to find a replacement for.

The couple said they make more time to talk with their child, play badminton with her, and engage in other activities.

“We try to make her laugh more, even though it’s not easy.”

Taesung Ahn (left) and his wife and daughter in Hanoi. Taesung Ahn’s photo

Lu Lian, from the central province of Quang Binh, said her biggest concern is how to get her children to maintain self-discipline in online learning, because she and her husband can’t monitor them every minute. She said it was not easy to check whether her children were doing their homework independently or playing games.

Leanne also shared with other parents their concerns about the children’s physical and mental health. She said she understood that her 13-year-old daughter needed to talk to her peers of the same age on different topics.

All she can do for them is “act like their friend” and tell jokes and cook different kinds of food, but Leanne worries that what she’s doing isn’t enough.

serious problems

To Thi Huan, a school psychologist, she said that while there was no official report on the impact of the pandemic on children in the country, she saw it as serious from what parents told her when they asked for her advice.

She said the unprecedented prolongation of online learning made children more tired during the day and affected their concentration. She added that the new term “stress zoom” also applied to students.

Huan said it was easy for children to feel stressed and anxious as a result of erratic learning schedules, sharing of electronic equipment with parents or siblings, and inadequate conditions at home. She added that children were also affected by the tensions of parents and teachers, noting that this led to many students trying to avoid classes, resisting or engaging in “unexpected” behaviors towards adults.

A lack of interaction with peers can be a disheartening factor, Huan said, adding that “Covid has had profound effects on children.”

A student in an online class in Hanoi, September 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Thanh Hang.

A primary school student attends an online class in Hanoi, September 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Thanh Hang

Janine Spink, director of research in the Education and Development Program at the Australian Council of Education Research (ACER), said it was widely known that students in developing countries, including Vietnam, had been negatively affected by the pandemic because they were unable to attend school.

She said that schools are not just learning centers, they support the development of children in general. They are institutes where children’s risks and problems are identified and dealt with, apart from providing support in a broader sense.

Long term effects

Dr William Smith, Senior Lecturer in International Education and Development at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, said there is a wide range of clear consequences of the epidemic for children in emerging countries such as Vietnam.

It’s not just about learning loss, Smith said, but it’s also about “large parts of socialization and well-being.” It is the school environment that allows children to learn about social interactions, how to get involved in society, feel connected with their peers and have a sense of belonging – all of which are “incredibly important”.

In addition, with home schooling, children have to learn how to interact with adults more regularly and actually engage with their peers. This could create some mental health issues, he said, adding: “School closures can have some long-term effects on children.”

Smith said the importance of schools in societies, especially in developing countries, cannot be underestimated. School is more than just a place to study. For children, it can also be a safe place, a place where they are fed regularly and have access to tools and amenities that are absent in the home. He said that the authorities should look into these aspects.

Many children in developing countries, including Vietnam, have had to meet the increasing demand for them to contribute to the family during the pandemic crisis. Girls can take on more household responsibilities, and boys are looking to join the workforce and help the family as the economy begins to contract, he said.

He has been concerned about an increase in the dropout rate as students become less motivated and see online learning as boring and irrelevant.

ACER’s Spink said students in developing countries in general, including Vietnam, where many live in difficult conditions, have been disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Many suffer from the lack of books, computers and other amenities at home and begin to fall behind without going to schools in person.

She cited a study conducted at the end of 2020 that found that primary school students without books and parent support with homework in Southeast Asia were already two years behind their peers.

She said students of high socioeconomic status, who have educational materials at home, access to technology, and good communication with friends are able to handle the challenges of the pandemic well.

Data released by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education last month showed that more than 2.2 million students in 56 provinces and cities are facing a shortage of computers for online learning. Meanwhile, many have to make do with weak Internet signals.

mitigating factors

Huan said parents have been on the front lines of limiting the negative effects of the pandemic on children.

They should create a special space for children to avoid distractions, help them set up scientific schedules for both learning and daily activities, encourage them to exercise, increase family interaction, and highlight what children have done well, rather than focusing on fixing their mistakes.

In particular, parents need to recognize early warning signs of affected mental health, such as abnormal eating and sleeping behaviors, persistent headaches or stomachaches, unusually short moods, hyperactivity or moodiness, disinterest in friends or pets, and avoiding interactions social, and so on. Then they should discuss this with teachers or seek help from psychologists.

For teachers and schools, Huan said that making lessons simple and fun will be vital in attracting students. Additionally, teachers must allocate screen time properly and must demonstrate their dedication “that they care about their students.”

She said that parents and teachers should make sure they prevent undue pressure on children.

Spink said it’s important for parents to show they care and encourage children to overcome difficulties.

She said parents should actively assist teachers in identifying students’ needs, both academically and socially. She said governments need to investigate and gather evidence at different levels of society to understand the impact of the pandemic and provide appropriate support in the short, medium and long term.

Smith said schools shouldn’t just focus on increasing kids’ grades during the pandemic without caring about what’s going on in their lives. Instead, they should adopt a holistic approach, recognizing that there are students who face social and psychological challenges.

He said students will continue to learn even when schools are closed, and the pandemic could be an opportunity for them to learn life lessons about going through tough times.

While schools in dozens of cities and provinces in Vietnam have yet to announce specific reopening plans, Ahn, the South Korean father, said it would be more beneficial for children if teachers could provide more personal help in the classroom.

Although it has been argued that children can become more resilient in the future after experiencing the crisis of the pandemic, Ahn said that “stamina has its limits,” so children should not be challenged for too long.

Hang from Hanoi said it is true that people need to accept the fact that children have no choice other than virtual learning as it has been a common condition around the world due to the pandemic, but she still feels uncertain about what the experience can “teach”. .

“They are not old enough to learn the lessons of this crisis.”

The VnExpress Hope Foundation’s Student Computers program aims to provide tablets, laptops, and computers to 3,300 students in certain circumstances, helping them access online education. For more information, please refer to this link.

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