Children's rights being violated amid COVID-19, says UWI professor


Children's rights being violated amid COVID-19, says UWI professor

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, November 26, 2020

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A university professor is calling for an urgent analysis of the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the quality of education children are receiving, saying already a number of their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child have been violated.

“Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child advocates that State parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical ability. However, the pandemic has disrupted the educational processes worldwide. Urgent analysis is needed to examine the effects of this disruption and the quality of education our children currently access,” Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, who is also director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), said yesterday.

She was speaking on day one of the 15th annual Caribbean Child Research Conference, dubbed Pandemics and Children's Rights — (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), and was one of five panellists expressing her views on education during the pandemic at the virtual affair.

Highlighting the findings of a small study on the experience of teachers of physical education (PE), the professor of social policy said the situation is dire.

Pointing to the mountain of evidence that supports the importance of physical education, such as its benefits to developing the social, cognitive, decision-making, and leadership skills, as well as it helping to improve children's concentration and learning, she noted that 37 articles of the convention directly apply to physical activity.

However, given the pandemic, children are more than ever depending on electronic screens to enjoy their right to play, further developing “unhealthy dietary consumption patterns”.

“COVID-19 and school closures exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity. We have seen a decrease in socialisation and a decrease in social interaction. We have noted the increase in mental health issues and some children have increased exposure to violence,” she said, pointing out that social inequalities have been amplified with some groups, such as those in poor households, rural areas, inner cities, State homes, children with disabilities, and children on the streets.

“All children have suffered from the disruption. There were challenges before COVID-19, we know the lack of places to play in communities for some children and online games were and still continue to be major babysitters, so all in all, we know that inadequate physical activity was already a concern pre-COVID-19,” she told the conference.

The UWI professor said the survey, involving 55 PE teachers, showed that they “are experiencing a mix of emotions at this time and miss the physical contact with students, and believe that the subject of PE is losing its identity as a consequence of the current situation”.

In noting that the majority of the teachers surveyed are from primary schools, she said, when asked how well they were coping, 11 per cent said badly, nine per cent said very badly, and 53 per cent said neither well nor badly.

The survey also found that 94 per cent of them had suspended their face-to-face classes since March 2020, while 43.6 per cent said they were unable to conduct classes online. Eighty-seven per cent said they experienced problems in conducting online classes.

“Quite a number spoke up. [There were] connectivity issues for both teachers and students, disturbances from feedback from other devices, students not wanting to turn on their cameras, students who were not able to use the technology,” Henry-Lee said were among the difficulties.

Additionally, it was found that “teachers could not teach certain drills online, so they were limited in what they could teach and they were unable to monitor, in terms of the development of some physical skills”.

She reported, too, that some students prefer face-to-face instruction, while some ignored the classes and some didn't turn up at all.

“We know that the disruption in daily routines has led to the violation of children's rights to good quality education. Specifically, the lack of access to online PE classes also reveals a violation of Article 21 of the [Convention on the Rights of the Child], implicitly the right to good mental health, good health and well-being. Articles 23 and 24 have been violated,” Professor Henry-Lee stated.

In the meantime, she said one solution was for teachers to be trained on how to conduct PE classes virtually.

“Children need holistic education and physical education must be given equal attention as other subjects, such as maths, English and science. We speak a lot about those, but we need to remember that physical education will improve performance in these same subjects,” she added.

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