The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the delivery of education, forcing educational institutions to utilise online learning platforms. While this in itself has its benefits, the commensurate challenges of online learning have had an impact on mental health.
On 27th January 2022, the topic of mental health resonated with participants on Day 2 of an interactive virtual ICT in Education-A Caribbean Forum hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Ogranization (UNESCO) and with the support of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is defined as a state of well being in which a person can realise their potential and abilities, cope with normal life stress and contribute meaningfully to the community.
Participants learned that while online learning offered users flexibility, autonomy and access to a variety of educational resources, it lacks the aspect of physical interaction that is so important for learning and the social development of children.
Ms. Alicia Hoyte, a Clinical Psychologist from Trinidad and Tobago, highlighted the impact of online learning on the mental health and well-being of students, which include, learning disrupted by socio-economic factors, increased exposure to online dangers, developmental challenges, and emotional and psychological distress.
She further outlined the damaging impact of digital learning on parents and by extension, educators.
“Parents have been pushed to the fore as teachers, ill-equipped and ill-prepared, whilst at the same time being burdened with all the other effects and impacts of this pandemic. Parents are also dealing with their poor mental health on top of the grief and stress of managing a family with a child online, with their limited technical skills and resources.”
Ms. Hoyte recommended, “We need to facilitate the safe return to in-person classes. Online learning cannot replace our teachers. I would like to encourage those involved in telecommunications to support the in-person experience and add to its effectiveness for our children.”
Day 2 also featured discussions on issues around the protection of children and youth from harmful online content. Mr. Deon Olton, ITU Representative, made it painfully clear that, “Increased screen time also potentially exposes students to other dangers, such as cyber bullying; online addiction and compulsive behaviour; oversharing of personal information; access to inappropriate and harmful content; and grooming by adults on social media platforms and gaming sites.”
Presenters called for greater parental awareness and for greater availability of advice on strategies to assist both parents and teachers to identify students at risk. They also pointed to the need for appropriate legislation, policies and initiatives in territories where such safeguards do not already exist.
For more information and to view the recording of the day’s event, visit the CTU’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/TheCtunion/videos