Prolonged online learning could have negative effect on childhood development, says clinical social workerSaturday, October 16, 2021
By Vanessa James
The coronavirus pandemic which hit Jamaica's shores in March 2020 has had many repercussions on the island including on educational institutions, which have had to move to the virtual sphere to keep up with the education needs of students.
In an interview with Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown, retired senior lecturer in Clinical Social Work at The University of the West Indies' Mona Campus in the department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, she confirmed that face-to-face socialisation is imperative in the different stages of a child's development.
She also shared with Observer Online that for each stage of development, a child's needs change to aid in their psychological and social growth.
“The needs of a two to five year-old will be different from a six to seven year-old and from an eight to 12 year-old and 12 and older. But the general point is that at each stage of development of the child, the development of their psychological needs is dependent on their ability to interact with people in their environment,” Crawford-Brown explained.
She noted that while the first point of contact is the family, as children grow, their point of contact is expected to expand through social interactions. This, she said is a necessary step that has been hindered due to the safety protocols that are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“As soon as the child gets to about age two, and particularly the age bracket of 9-12 and the 12 and over and those 6-11, their psychological development is dependent on their ability to interact with their peers and other people in their areas of socialisation which would be school (their teachers) church, peer group, media and family,” Crawford-Brown shared.
She highlighted that with only social media and family being the points of contact that are still intact, not being able to interact with the remaining three will have a “tremendous impact on the child”.
“The developmental task of a child at the 5-7 age requires them to play games with their peers; to be able to win and lose; to be able to understand their world, team work, team play, interacting with others [and learning that] 'I'm not the only person in the world, there are other people out there too'. So that whole learning that takes place outside of the child's home is cut out to a large extent [and] …that will make the child socially inept, I would call it,” the retired lecturer said.
She warned that this so-called 'COVID generation' could have “serious problems” in the form of social, emotional and psychological issues if they are not able to return to a sense of normalcy, especially as it relates to the classroom.
“Socially they are not able to interact with their peers so they will have issues with being able to understand the social environment in which they are expected to function. Also, the issue of authority will be lacking. For example, the 6 year-old who would normally say, 'no my teacher says I am to do this' will not have this because now everything is coming from the parent and that other level of authority will be lacking".
Crawford-Brown had words of caution for those she referred to as 'transition children'. These are the students who would be moving on from one stage of their schooling to the next.
“The socialisation with peers is very important. I work with children aged 5-12 and the saddest thing is to hear a 10-year-old child say 'Miss I don't have any friends' and then I realised that child was a transition child. I would like to caution that the transition children are at particular risk… Each of these transition is fraught with problems because the normal friendship group has broken up and gone to school online. So the 10-12 don't have a friend if they don't have a sibling,” she pointed out.
Although some schools have started face-to-face classes, the majority are conducting lessons virtually.
As far as Crawford-Brown is concerned, the only thing that can truly help is to curb the number of COVID-19 infections so that children can return fully to in-person learning.
In the meantime, she offered the following remedies: “Therapy will help; support groups for parents and children. Internationally there are pods with vaccinated families but this has its own problems because that child may not learn how to interact with others outside of his/her race, class and socio-economic standing.
Have internet buses in rural areas so they can come around and use it to access schools. We have to go out there and find the children and provide support on a community level. Train social workers to do community-based outreach through the Ministry of Education and the regions until we have coverage.”
Crawford-Brown said that while online learning is working for some, “even those who it is working for need the socialisation piece. Online learning is not normal; we have to do better for our children”.