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Jakarta Post

Remote learning takes mental health toll on children, parents

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, November 20, 2020   /   02:59 pm
Remote learning takes mental health toll on children, parents A student does schoolwork at home in Punik, West Nusa Tenggara, next to his parents as his teacher instructs him by walkie-talkie. (JP/Panca Nugraha)

Like many parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Siti Masita, 36, sits with her 8-year-old daughter during remote learning sessions every weekday.

Over time, she started to notice that her second-grader, a state elementary school student in Bekasi, West Java, wasn’t able to complete school assignments on her own.

Siti began to blame herself for not having the skills to help her daughter understand the material.

“Sometimes I grumble. Sometimes I get mad because she can’t seem to understand the material and gets distracted by gadgets,” she told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

“But then again, I can’t teach as well as a teacher does.”

With only a few online classes to attend but an abundance of assignments to finish, the mother of three fears that her daughter has lost all interest in learning.

Siti’s troubles have become all too familiar to parents throughout Indonesia as remote learning has become the de facto “new normal” for students. Because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, social restrictions are still in place and schools remain closed until further notice.

Nine months into the COVID-19 outbreak, many still criticize remote education methods as they stand because students continue to struggle with the system.

Parents say teachers are made to act as taskmasters and that the system lacks adequate two-way communication. There is a strong consensus that such methods have resulted in undue stress for students.

The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) has recorded four deaths that it claims are associated with the online learning experience, although other factors contributed to the tragedies.

A senior high school student in Tangerang, Banten, died after battling with depression, which according to her father was the result of an overwhelming volume of school assignments. Similar cases were reported in Gowa, South Sulawesi, and Tarakan, North Kalimantan. Another case in Lebak, Banten, involved a mother physically abusing her child.

Read also: Remote learning cited as cause of student suicide in North Kalimantan

“Before the pandemic, parents always thought that when it came to school-related matters, children were the responsibility of teachers. But with distance learning, it feels like everything has been dumped into the parents’ hands,” Siti said.

“It is actually quite burdensome because each parent is equipped differently with the capacity to teach.”

Satriwan Salim, national coordinator of the Association for Education and Teachers (P2G), said the same remote education problems had persisted since the beginning of the outbreak.

He criticized the government’s lack of intervention in schools beyond providing complementary learning materials through state-owned radio and television broadcasters.

Read also: Distance learning threatens to exacerbate education inequality in Indonesia

As the academic year began in July, KPAI commissioner Retno Listyarti said the “second phase” of remote learning – which involved new courses, classmates and teachers – would be more challenging for both students and parents.

This newness could affect the psychological condition of children, which may manifest in boredom, a fear of being left behind academically, insecurity, missing friends and even a fear of compounding their parents’ financial distress.

“Parents may get emotional too. This may lead to verbal abuse that undermines children’s capability of learning or improper disciplinary measures, which then build up the child’s psychological distress,” Retno said in a recent statement.

Both Retno and Satriwan urged school boards to reduce the load of assignments and ease the standards of assessment given the emergency circumstances.

"School authorities must distribute surveys regularly to students and parents to get feedback to improve remote learning," Satriwan said, noting that private schools had reduced class hours after a survey suggested it was necessary.

Read also: How kids, parents can manage at-home learning

Retno called on the Health Ministry and local health agencies to build partnerships with the Education and Culture Ministry and local education agencies to raise awareness about mental health among students and create more mental health-friendly policies.

Child and family psychologist Ratih Zulhaqqi said she had been noticing a number of stress signals from her clients – both parents and children – that were related to the pandemic.

“It is like a vicious circle. Students are stressed out and lack focus, which makes their parents stressed. On the other hand, schools demand that parents assist their children at home,” she said. “All the three [sides] have had to adapt to the current situation."

An internal survey by the Tanoto Foundation, a family-oriented educational philanthropy organization, found that 56 percent of parents with elementary school-aged children and 34 percent of parents with junior high school-aged children felt stress and boredom while accompanying children learning at home.

Among parents with children in junior high, 28 percent said they found it challenging to explain certain subjects, and 24 percent said they did not understand the educational materials.