Virtual classrooms Photograph:( Reuters )
The coronavirus pandemic has altered the lifestyle of several people around the world, but it seems to have brought a change in personalities of school-going children. However, is this change temporary? Experts answer
The day was a little gloomy, even though the sun was shining bright. It was a little cold but we had just battled an extreme winter so this March weather didn’t feel that bad. Suddenly when my phone started buzzing, I thought I had forgotten someone's birthday and therefore the group messages are piling. However, the news they were discussing was not something I could have ever imagined. Our schools were getting shut due to Covid and we had no idea when will they reopen.
Vidhi Dahiya, a high school student in India remembers her last 'normal' days in the school. The girl who was once a high-energy, dance-addicted extrovert, has not been infected by Covid yet but has definitely caught on the slow-paced life since the pandemic.
It is not just her; many other students have now gone from hanging out daily with their friends to simply dropping a 'sup?' text message to their friends once a week.
The coronavirus pandemic not only altered the teaching style in schools, but has also brought a variety of other impacts for children. Sometimes, it seems they are more inclined towards technology now but they have also lost actual communication with their peers.
Some parents are worried that the pandemic-caused virtual teaching might be turning their children into introverts.
"I felt I had become more introverted and inhibited during this period. I seem to feel some sort of inhibition towards physical contact, making friends or interacting with strangers," said Shianvi Dogra from Grade 6, Chaman Bhartiya School, Bengaluru, India. "I found it difficult to focus, and because I was isolated, I found it difficult to do my regular schoolwork such as taking notes."
However, experts are not in complete agreement with this as they feel this is a temporary change.
Sense of isolation
"Online sessions may have created a sense of isolation. There may not have been a complete shift for the extroverts but definitely a new perspective mention-worthy," said Vijayalakshmi K, Head of Student Wellness (Disha), The Narayana Group. "While the introverts have gained more comfort and seen their so-called shortcomings, the neutral effect of the work from home scenario has acted as a neutral pacifier."
Vijayalakshmi K also believes that while virtual classrooms might have been a huge shift, children have been smart enough to utilise their energies into doing something creative while staying indoors.
"The huge spaces came down to small rooms at home. With little or no space where students had to learn to express themselves through social media in order to satisfy their attention needs," the expert said.
"Though play and interaction came down to zero, the students were able to spend their energies mentally through the virtual world."
Sandhya Gatti, Head of Pedagogy and Teacher Training, Chaman Bhartiya School agrees with Vijayalakshmi K. She also believes that while it may seem like children are turning into introverts, this change is temporary. "When children resume play, their natural personalities will come to the fore and they will be themselves again," Gatti said.
Shianvi Dogra also agreed to it as she has observed her personality changing back to her old-self since she has started going back to school. "The inhibitions I had developed during the pandemic, with regard to interacting with other people or approaching others, have reduced after I have recently started attending physical classes. I also feel more positive and energised and physically active as I cycle to school every day."
However, she also urges parents and teachers to make sure children have the right support to manage this shift in their life. "Setting the right environment and expectations during this transition is crucial. For children who are still at home, it is important, that parents spend time with their children and give them opportunities to meet people and friends, with due precautions in place," she said.
A survey conducted by the Gopal Narayan Singh University on more than 1,800 students from tier-1, 2 and 3 cities has revealed that while students do not report such a huge shift in their friend’s personalities, all of them do complain about similar problems — laziness, not motivated to write and not being able to stay without a gadget.
One thing that this survey pointed out was deteriorating mental health of students who were already seeking help from professionals. "Students who had any mental health issues could not reach out to the professionals as the parents wouldn’t encourage this," the survey states. Since they children stayed at home all day, they were also unable to share anything with their therapists and counsellors. "Some students who have had any previous diagnosis of depression or any other concern showed little or no improvement and got very delicate with the excessive care of self (as eating more and no exercise were noticed)."
Happily back on campus
Students are also welcoming the 'back to campus' days now, after staying home for more than a year. They were happy to meet their friends face-to-face and be able to interact with the teachers in pre-Covid normal way. Some students also took a sigh of relief with reopening of schools as poor network connectivity in their areas was leading to them missing out on all important school teachings and social interactions.
While the students are happy about returning back to schools, the constant fear of getting infected, wearing masks, social distancing and constantly sanitising hands is taking away all the fun away from them.
"The one thing that I find irritating about the physical classroom right now, is the fact that I have to constantly sanitise my hands and even though I want to hug my friends, I cannot," Shianvi Dogra frowned.
Parents, pay heed
More experts around the world are now turning their focus on personality changes children have gone through during this pandemic. While we wait for experts to find a solution to this unexpected change, mental health experts are urging parents to pay more attention to their children's needs.
"Parents must allow children a healthy dose of open-air and physical activities for several important reasons. Spending time outdoors is a great immunity booster, channelises energies in the right direction, and keeps children mentally healthy and happy," said Ms Gatti. "Parents must give clear instructions to children about how to keep themselves safe with sanitisers and social distancing. When rightly communicated, most children will follow rules because they know it is their only way to keep outdoors accessible."
She also warns parents to make children aware about the dangers of the Covid pandemic but "we must be careful not to terrify them or project our fears onto them".