Experts: “Corona” has negative social and psychological effects on early childhood
Amman –While experts stress the importance of investing in early education for the first five years of age, as it is the most influential to children’s growth and learning, they are raising the alarm about the negative impacts that the Corona pandemic has had on the psychological and social development of that age group.
During a dialogue session organized by the National Council for Family Affairs on the impact of the Corona pandemic on early childhood, attendants cautioned that “COVID 19 restrictions have created a state of insecure attachment among children due to their continued closeness to their mothers and fathers, while being deprived of playing with their peers, thus affecting their social and language skills and adversely impacting their flexibility, psychological rigidity, and psycho-social adjustment mechanisms.”
Experts also indicated that "these repercussions demand that parents should enhance their knowledge of how to handle the psychological and social factors affecting their children and should assume a greater role in supporting them during the learning process."
Ministry of Education representative, Alia Arabiyat, said that “the first five years of a child's life are of special importance; they are the basic building blocks for a child's growth, learning and development in the future. Children’s brain develop at a rapid rate during the first few years, with more than a million network of neurons growing every second; at the age of five 85% of a child’s ideas, skills and personality are developed.”
"The Corona pandemic has constituted a challenge to the Ministry of Education which introduced the distance education initiative to ensure the continuity of education, transferring learning and teaching from schools to homes using various tools", indicated Arabiyat, pointing out that distance learning has had its advantages with regard to shifting the responsibility of learning to the child and parents, spreading the culture of self-learning, providing greater flexibility, and working to strengthen the relationship between the child, parents and teacher.
Atef Al-Qasim, a psychiatrist at the Institute for Family Health, discussed the negative effects of the pandemic, particularly with regard to “creating a state of insecure attachment due to children staying close to their mothers and fathers, in addition to spreading anxiety, terror and isolation among children, thus creating avoidant dependent personalities.”
He pointed out that "depriving the child from playing with peers has drawn a distorted form of social relationships in the child's mind characterized by low social communication and language skills, reduced flexibility and psychological rigidity, and low psycho-social coping mechanisms."
Al-Qasim warned that, due to the previous factors, “many children will subsequently refuse to go to the traditional school, and school dropouts may increase later with more children clinging to their homes."
On the other hand, for children under the age of two years, Al-Qasim said that “the psychological effects on them are more positive, as their chances of staying with their mothers for longer periods of time relieve their anxiety of separation from their mothers."
The founder of the “No to suspending school” campaign, Aseel Al-Jallad, said that “classroom face-to face learning is the best for our children's physical, mental and psychological health,” referring to international studies that showed that the continuation of distance learning will push more children out of school.
Al-Jallad pointed out the negative effects of distance learning as a result of exposure to screens and prolonged use of the Internet, which can expose children to electronic violence, including sexual harassment, underlining the absence of the element of interaction which undermines the effectiveness of education, not to mention the negative impact on parents as pressure increases on them causing tension within the family as a whole.
"School is a small community that supports the family in the nurturing process first and then in education; it prepares children to face challenges and the future and provides them with a safe environment to shield them from the negative impacts of staying at home for long periods of time,” Jallad explained, calling for giving the family the freedom to send their children to school with a full commitment to safety and protective measures.
Ni’mat Qandil, director of a kindergarten, talked about the experience of distance learning during home quarantine, pointing out that the kindergarten relied on on-line education through forming WhatsApp and Facebook groups, the most used among parents, and by sharing recorded educational videos.
Qandil considered that “working with distance learning in emergency situations requires promptness in providing solutions, alternatives and plans and involves designing programs, being ready to react on the spot, and learning from mistakes and challenges.”
Regarding the challenges of distance learning, Qandil indicated that the biggest issue was families being intimidated by the new experience and being afraid of failing to assume their role, in addition to the lack of resources and equipment such as smart devices and Internet services for everyone.
"Now that students have returned to their classrooms and kindergartens with their teachers, utmost care will be taken to ensure the safety for our children," added Qandil.
Ending the session, participants recommended developing educational content to go along with the developmental characteristics of children, and training and working with parents to provide experiences to the child.
They also introduced the following recommendations: training and qualifying teachers and caregivers to pass on experiences to the child; communicating with parents to find realistic solutions that take into account the situation of the parents on the ground; allocating financial and human resources and finding means to implement programs; focusing on the social / emotional aspects of the children; and developing relationships and forming positive trends towards learning.