Image courtesy CTU.

“We need to facilitate the safe return to in-person classes. Online learning cannot replace our teachers…”

That comment from Clinical Psychologist, Alicia Hoyte, at the recent virtual conference titled, ICT in Education – A Caribbean Forum, which was hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and with the support of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

On 27th January 2022, Day 2 of the forum, participants focussed on the topic of mental health, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Forum recognised that the pandemic has transformed the delivery of education, forcing educational institutions to utilise online learning platforms.  However, it also noted that despite the benefits, the commensurate challenges of online learning have had an impact on mental health.

The World Health Organisation defines “mental health” 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.

Forum 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.

Trinidad and Tobago Clinical Psychologist, Alicia Hoyte, highlighted the impact of online learning on the mental health and well-being of students.

“These impacts include learning disrupted by socio-economic factors, increased exposure to online dangers, developmental challenges, and emotional and psychological distress,” she explained.

She observed that digital learning also had a damaging impact 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.”

She recommends: “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 of the Forum also featured discussions on issues around the protection of children and youth from harmful online content, an issued highlighted by Deon Olton, ITU Representative:

“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,” he pointed out.

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 stressed the need for appropriate legislation, policies and initiatives in territories where such safeguards do not already exist.  — (CTU)

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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