31st Sea Games - Vietnam 2021 Covid-19 Pandemic
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Return to in-person learning: wish and necessity
Linh Pham 13:47, 2021/12/26
Prolonged periods of missed school can have life-long consequences, requiring a thorough understanding of crisis effects on children.

Last week, a 12-year-old boy in Hanoi committed suicide by jumping off the 22nd floor of a residential building, triggering concerns over mental health issues caused by multiple pressure in the pandemic as noted in initial investigations.

The case was not the first of its kind reported over the past two years since Covid-19 flared up in Vietnam. The victims are believed to suffer some mental health problems like anxiety, behavioral changes, and aggression.

 A pupil at Thanh Cong Primary School, Hanoi attends an online class. Photo: Nguyen Hai 

In another move, most of the calls made to the National Child Protection Hotline in Vietnam between July 2020 and July 2021 are related to psychological issues linked to prolonged online learning during the pandemic.

The number of calls sent to the “hotline 111”, surpassed 500,000 in a year and rose by 20,000 per month, statistics by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs showed.

In addition, a recent study conducted by UNICEF indicated that approximately 13% of adolescents aged 10-19 suffer some forms of mental disorders and lack of interactions.

Nguyen Hong Quyen felt shocked with such news, and she was anxious about her 15-year-old son who might fall victim to prolonged home learning.

For that reason, returning to school is a desire of not only parents like Quyen but also children who have missed learner-teacher and learner-learner interactions at school for a long time.

“My child is in an adolescent crisis. In many cases, he does not confide in me but his teachers and close friends to share his personal stories. Online learning has advantages such as increasing children’s self-discipline, but it really affects their psychophysiological development when they only sit in front of the computer all day at home,” Quyen told The Hanoi Times.

Quyen, who runs Ev360online English Center in Hanoi, knows that attending school regularly is the best way for learning quality and psychology of children at all levels. “Being a teacher and a mother, I myself want my children to go to school more than anyone else for a reason that interaction leads to skill development, enabling teachers to help learners to understand concepts, identify difficulties, and stimulate critical thinking,” she said.

Nguyen Tien Anh, Quyen’s son, a 9th grader at Pascal Primary and Secondary School, Hanoi, said emotionally “I miss my friend and outdoor activities very much. Learning from home is challenging but it’s good for everyone’s safety but I wish it could end soon.”

Tien Anh shared his thought when being asked about his wish. “I hope that I could return to school soon after full vaccination,” he said after getting the second jab on December 21, adding that in-person classes are so much important for him as he’s preparing for the end-term exam which is very important for secondary students in Hanoi.

 Nguyen Tien Anh, Pascal Primary and Secondary School, Hanoi, with his vaccination certificate. 

Return to school – wish

Since early February, necessary physical distancing requirements resulted in the distance learning of more than 21 million school children in Vietnam who are being affected by school closures, according to Rana Flowers, UNICEF Vietnam Representative.

While online learning is being rolled out, the crisis has exposed a significant digital divide – between those with access to both a device and Internet and those without. For those who don’t have access to online learning tools, the digital divide is widening. And for those children who are able to turn to digital learning and entertainment platforms, they are increasingly at risk from online predators, Flowers told local media.

“In structuring any response, we need to understand that the crisis affects children disproportionately. Prolonged periods of poor nutrition or missed school can have life-long consequences,” she added.

Crisis effects are devastating not only for the children themselves but because this is the generation of children who will drive Vietnam’s economy in years to come, Rana Flowers emphasized, stating that these girls and boys are the future innovators and entrepreneurs, the doctors and scientists, the teachers, and decision-makers.

Nguyen Thi Van, Deputy Rector of Vietnam International School (VIS), expressed that she yearns to see students coming in and out of the school gate each day after two years of being impacted by Covid-19.

“We want to welcome our 10th-grade students, the newcomers of the lowest level of the high school, who could begin experimenting with more active learning styles at school if they were there,” Van said she felt sorry for her students.

To make the wish possible, vaccination becomes the most effective way for children amid widespread Covid-19 transmission across the nation and in Hanoi in particular.

Hanoi continued topping localities in Vietnam in the number of daily coronavirus infections for the past few days, with more than 1,800 cases detected on December 25. Since last week, Hanoi outpaced Ho Chi Minh City to be the most affected area, leaving the health system at risk of being stretched beyond its limits.

“Our students must stay safe from coronavirus. Vaccination is considered the best way at this moment to protect them, so I feel at ease when the schoolchildren get two jabs,” Van told The Hanoi Times on the day she accompanied her students at the injection point at Nguyen Hue High School, Ha Dong District on December 18. 

Van shared that she saw smiles on the faces of the 10th graders when they gathered for vaccination. “The moments they met one another were so delighted that I could feel joy behind the masks and wish in-class learning to be restored anytime soon.”

Vu Duc Duong, a 10th grader at Marie Curie Hanoi School, said “I really have high hopes for going to school after being double dosed.”

Sharing the same idea, Tran Minh Thu, a 10th-grade student at Vietnam International School (VIS), said she was told about the role of immunization against Covid-19 so she hoped that the vaccination could help in protecting people and more than that, bringing her and her friends back to school.

The expressions were recorded at a time when secondary and high school children in Hanoi got the second shots. Last weekend, some high schools in several parts of Hanoi joined the inoculation campaign, and more educational facilities engaged in the drive this week.

Wish to go to school becomes stronger among the 10th-grade students as they have not been to school since they were admitted to the new education level in September. For that reason, both teachers and students desired the return more than anything.

Following the national vaccination for children aged 12-17, Hanoi began the drive on November 23 with the injection of children aged 15-17 first. According to the city’s health sector, about 92% of nearly 800,000 children aged 12-17 were fully vaccinated.

 A high school student at Vietnam International School (VIS) holds her vaccination certificate.

…and necessity

The Covid-19 pandemic, especially with the dominance of the highly contagious Delta variant, has forced Vietnam to close schools in almost all parts across the nation in the ongoing outbreak that flared up in late April 2021.

In a report presented at the National Assembly (NA)’s plenary session in October 2021, the NA’s Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents, and Children warned of Covid-caused impacts on schoolchildren, noting that school closure has troubled students a lot.

According to Associate Prof. Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the Department for Preventive Medicine, the Ministry of Health, stakeholders should take into account the fact that staying at home for a long time would cause harmful effects like psychological disorders, eye diseases, obesity not to mention online learning quality.

Ph.D. Tran Thanh Nam, University of Education, National University Hanoi, told a recent conference held by the Ministry of Education and Training that mental health issues, with emotional consequences among children during the pandemic, are commonly reported. Of them, those at 15-18 years of age have shown significantly more symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to other groups.

The expert said that after six weeks of quarantine or staying at home, children normally get psychological impacts, something like self-harm, overreacting to problems or criticism, being uncomfortable and annoying, and mood swings.

Since the fresh outbreak of coronavirus in Vietnam in late April 2021, safety measures have left children at home with online learning since then, except for occasional in-person classes in a few areas. Being aware of children’s need to return to school, both health and education authorities have discussed to seek the best solutions. However, decisions would be made based on the pandemic evolution. 

In this regard, the United Nations bodies and international organizations in Vietnam including UNICEF, UNFPA, Plan International, and the Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam have taken actions to promote child-friendly approaches that include securing safe and healthy school environments amid the widespread coronavirus transmission. The efforts are aimed to support the teaching and learning processes that speak to children’s individual needs and protect them online.

To prepare for the return to school, Tran Thanh Nam suggested that before bringing children back to school, it’s necessary to reduce the online learning workload. When students return to school, teachers should not be in a hurry to force them to study as required in the teaching programs but prioritize exchange activities for them to gradually adapt.

“In the first week at school, teachers should pay attention to all small frictions that need to be resolved, otherwise there is a risk of bullying and school violence after staying at home for a long time,” Nam said at a conference held by the Ministry of Education and Training in late October. 

 Schoolchildren expect to have moments at school like this before. 
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