Tuesday, October 3, 2023

What we don’t talk about

The other day in Kohima, district master trainers were told that 85% of brain development in a child occurs prior to 6 years and it is critical to give emphasis towards nurturing the growth of a child’s brain during this particular period. During the training, School Education authorities reminded the master trainers that they will be game changers in nurturing young minds and ensuring that the students are moulded to become ‘persons who can understand’ and just not memorise the textbooks. The loud message was that unless the foundation of education and the foundation of learning, reading and numeracy are strong at the base level, it becomes difficult to understand concepts at higher classes. Across the world today, more than ever, in the pandemic times, early childhood educators are being asked to provide young children with access to a nurturing, enriched, high-quality environment that will support positive growth, learning and developmental outcomes for all children. It is an accepted knowledge that the mental and psychosocial well-being of children promotes quality learning. The World Health Organization (WHO) norms for physical, mental, social and spiritual wellness are well placed and its member nations are expected to take it up in letter and spirit. However, this is not the case ~ especially in India, where a holistic approach towards education is lacking big time. In a curious irony, while teachers and schools are taught to give more and deserved attention to students with physical disabilities, the mental and emotional aspects of both abled and disabled students are widely ignored. School students are known to encounter common emotional and behavioural problems during their school days. There have also been calls in some quarters to look into the mental benefits of physical activities at school. According to reports, this has been a rather neglected theme in health promotion research during recent decades. This is unfortunate as mental health has been proclaimed as one of the most important health concerns of the 21st century. The benefits of physical activity for the mental health and well-being of children and young people are well-established. Increased physical activity during school hours is associated with better physical, psychological and social health and well-being. Across the country, including our own State, disciplinary, learning-related, bullying, school refusal, fear/anxiety, attention deficit and conduct disorder problems are commonly seen in schools. Students committing suicide after failing the final exams and dropping out are closely connected to a lack of mental health education and counselling in schools. Intellectual disability among school children is a great challenge for routine teaching-learning activities. It is scientifically proven that students with intellectual difficulties need specific education in a separate setting. Girls entering puberty at school face the shameful problem of dealing with their menstrual cycle. It sometimes creates psychological pressure and is misconstrued. Physical changes in girls and boys are natural, but they remain an unanswered and difficult matter for school adolescents. Also, lack of awareness about mental health and misconceptions about its treatment has been cited as another big challenge. A minor psychological reason might bring about a serious and harmful result if not dealt with timely. Yet, there is little or no space for matters related to mental health in the school curriculum in comparison to physical health and hygiene. Studies have confirmed that children need to have a good mental health status if they are going to live up to their full potential and truly live a life that is filled with positive experiences. Mental health education in school is basically for preventive and promotional purposes. As students’ emotional and social skills are crucial for a successful future career, school education should include mental health-related topics. Schools need to give due attention to the psychosocial well-being of students before real classroom teaching. Some basic ideas about mental illness and its treatment will be better disseminated in society if students are taught about it in school.