Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Wayne Campbell
“Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers and with each other carry emotional messages.”- Daniel Golemen
A lot has been said about the impact of the novel coronavirus regarding the disruption of students’ education. Governments all over continue to struggle with whether to resume face-to-face school as opposed to online teaching and learning.
We have all heard the voice notes which have gone viral with the voices of children expressing frustration, anger, anxiety and fear regarding issues surrounding virtual teaching and learning but also the impact the closure of schools have had on their socio-emotional development.
Sadly, we have had the suicide of two pre-teen girls in recent times. To this end, it is safe to say that many students are just not coping emotionally during this pandemic.
Another negative consequence of COVID-19 is the widening gap of out-of-school enrichment programmes. The school is not only a place for academics to be taught. The school provides a safe haven for the holistic approach to the development of the student.
Education is more than mastery in academics; it is also about activities that extend children’s learning through new experiences and opportunities. Due to the pandemic and closure of schools there are no more school trips, after-school clubs, inter-school fellowship or sports day.
The social-emotional development of the student is perhaps just as important as the academic outcome of students. Research has indicated that there is a correlation between students’ social-emotional development and academic outcome.
Young children who exhibit healthy social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment are more likely to have good academic performance in elementary school (Cohen and others 2005; Zero to Three 2004).
Social emotional development
Social-emotional development is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning as the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Cohen and others 2005 states social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others.
The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child 2004, 2) states that social-emotional development encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes.
The core features of emotional development include the ability to identify and understand one’s own feelings, to accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others, to manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner, to regulate one’s own behavior, to develop empathy for others, and to establish and maintain relationships.
No one knows the duration of this pandemic as most of the world is now experiencing a second wave. It is becoming obvious that the world will have to live in this COVID-19 phase until a safe vaccine is created and can be distributed. Consequently, there is a widening gap in the holistic enrichment and development of our students as our schools remain closed.
Our schools not only provide instruction in subjects such as Mathematics and English Language; the school community provides a platform for students to socialize and communicate with their peers and friends.
The socialization process is extremely vital for us to become humans. There are numerous clubs and societies in our educational institutions which provide leadership training as well as a platform for students to air their concerns and make their contributions to the wider social community.
Undoubtedly, it is through enrichment that children form bonds with peers and mentors. It is also through enrichment that students find sustenance for their passions, interests and social-emotional development.
The importance of empathy
The society is at risk of producing a generation of citizens who are unable to empathize.
The online magazine Psychology Today defines empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. The article states developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately.
It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial, or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced.
The article added that empathy helps us cooperate with others, build friendships, make moral decisions, and intervene when we see others being bullied.
Humans begin to show signs of empathy in infancy, and the trait develops steadily through childhood and adolescence. Still, most people are likely to feel greater empathy for people like themselves and may feel less empathy for those outside their family, community, ethnicity, or race.
Since the closure of schools in March 2020 due to COVID-19, students, for the most part, have been denied this sort of enrichment or extra-curricular activity which in the past has made students more rounded individuals.
Some students have gotten themselves into mischief and unfortunately, some have even lost their lives. This enrichment gap was growing prior to the pandemic.
It bears thought that upper-income households have been investing more in their children’s extracurricular activities over the years. In addition to the digital divide which the pandemic has brought to the fore, those who plan policies must take into account the cost that a widening enrichment gap will have not only on our students but on the
society in general.
Jamaica, unlike other jurisdictions, does not have readily available data regarding the economic costs to families surrounding the widening gap in enrichment programmes.
However, it is safe to say that students from affluent families will still have their swimming classes or go horseback riding, play lawn tennis or go for music or gymnastics lessons.
In most instances, students from the lower socio-economic families cannot even afford to purchase a tablet for the children to be engaged in remote teaching and learning. Undeniably, poverty limits the access to enrichment programmes for our students.
The State needs to do more to address the widening gap in income levels as well as other forms of inequalities. The New York Times reported a growing equity gap in education. Especially notable is a gap in enrichment investments that dwarfs other inequities.
Wealthy families’ annual per-child expenditures on enrichment activities nearly tripled between 1972 and 2006 (from $3,536 to $8,872) while low-income families remained stagnant at around $1,000.
Educational institutions of all levels are primarily in the business of providing an education to their students. However, we must be mindful of the socio-emotional support needed for our students in these unprecedented times. There is a need to have guidance counsellors in all our schools, especially at the primary level.
Additionally, social workers should also be part of the best practice for schools. The teaching staff alone cannot attend to the socio-emotional needs of our students.
The role of the teacher is very important in facilitating the development of a psychologically safe environment that promotes positive social interaction. As students interact openly with their peers, they learn more about each other as individuals, and they begin building a history of interactions.
The closure of schools has curtailed the hidden curriculum, which allowed for a more culturally rich and diverse education for our students, especially our more disadvantaged students.
The disadvantaged student perhaps will suffer more during these uncharted times, as they are no longer being exposed to certain settings that involve social graces and acceptable social behaviours. Students will not achieve their full potential academically without the requisite attention being paid to the development of their passions, interests, social and emotional well-being.
In the words of L.R. Knost, our job is not to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected]
@WayneCam Follow my blog at www.wayaine.blogspot.com