Ensuring students well-being in the post-pandemic era.
1- IMPACTS OF COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS ON STUDENT WELL-BEING
It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions implemented to control the virus, had a large-scale impact across the world. Not least for students who were forced to leave behind education as they knew it, in favour of remote learning.
Two years later, we speak to principals from across the region about some of the impacts of Covid-19 on their students. Principal Lisa Johnson PhD, of American Academy for Girls, Principal Nazia Daha of New Academy School and Principal Albertha Huyse of GEMS Cambridge International Private School, share their first hand experience with behavioral, health and well-being issues post-pandemic and initiatives that they, and many other schools, have introduced to address these.
In 2021, The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP), Ministry of Education (MoE) and Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC) collaborated to conduct a survey on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, distance learning, and social distancing on the physical activity, food habits, and quality of sleep among school students in the UAE. The results of the survey pointed to a 46% reduction in the level of physical activity among students.
Lisa Johnson PhD, Principal of American Academy for Girls, spoke to us about the behavioral changes that she has seen following the Covid-19 pandemic, telling us that she had “witnessed a rise in stress and anxiety levels among some students” since their return to school.
However, through all of the adjustments and uncertainty, Lisa pointed out that there have been some positive changes for students in that they have “developed a deeper appreciation for human connections and relationships. The challenges of physical distancing and remote learning have made them value social interactions and school events more than ever before.”
2- INITIATIVES BEING IMPLEMENTED AND THEIR BENEFITS
In 2022, the World Health Organisation published guidelines on recommended levels of activity for children aged between 5-17. Research showed that children falling into this age category should engage in a daily average of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity. This activity should primarily be aerobic exercises and should be spread out across the week.
In a bid to reach this target, many schools across the UAE have introduced initiatives like “The Daily Mile”, encouraging students to walk, jog or run a mile each day during school hours.
With over 55,000 students participating across the UAE, reported benefits of this programme include increased focus and attention in class, improved health and fitness levels, happier students and improvements in overall classroom behavior.
The combination of movement and healthy eating plays a crucial role in enhancing students’ health, well-being and academic performance. By incorporating physical activity and wellness programs into the daily routine of students, educational institutions are witnessing remarkable benefits.
Ms. Albertha Huyse, Principal of GEMS Cambridge International Private School, highlighted the positive effects of implementing these initiatives, stating, “By prioritizing students’ health and well-being we have observed improved concentration, focus and motivation, which has positively impacted their academic performance.”
3- THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTAL INFLUENCE
Aside from the efforts of schools, studies have shown that parental example and home life can have a monumental influence on the health and well-being of children.
Principal Ms. Albertha Huyse emphasizes the significance of parental involvement in supporting children’s health and well-being from home: “Children often learn by observing their parents, so it’s important to model healthy behaviours.” She added: “Parents can promote healthy habits such as nutritious eating, regular physical activity and adequate sleep and provide opportunities for active play or exercise.”
She also highlighted the need for a loving and supportive home environment where children feel safe, valued and heard. She believes that open communication, active listening and emotional support are essential for promoting their well-being.
Principal Nazia Daha, of New Academy School, echoes the importance of parental involvement, particularly in the post-pandemic era. She advocates for parents to regularly check on their children’s well-being, stating, “Parents can play a great role through regularly checking on their children about how well they are doing at school.” Nazia emphasizes the value of spending quality time with children, as it encourages them to open up and share their feelings.
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