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Violent students: A loud cry for support

By Kalangi Kiambati | January 14th 2021

Two incidents of students turning their anger towards their family and teachers over the last few days should concern education stakeholders. They point to a cry for psychosocial support services at the household and school environments.

Parents and teachers in the 21st century are faced with unique challenges that require a re-evaluation of parenting and teaching methods. Traditionally, parents and teachers had monopoly of knowledge on what was right and what constituted proper behaviour. The advent of digital technology, however, changed all that. Children now have access to gadgets, exposing them to internet use and increased potential for inappropriate content. As the world grapples with the effects of Covid-19, including prolonged closure of learning institutions, many learners have had to learn how to adapt to the new living conditions.

In Kenya, for example, learners were until recently isolated from their school friends. This coupled with stress and anxiety of coping with the guidelines issued by the Health ministry must have had traumatic effects on them. If such children live in an unsupportive community, their psychological wellbeing can be at great risk.

Psychosocial health means there is a healthy interaction between an individual’s mental, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions. Psychosocially healthy people can control tension and anxiety and maintain a positive outlook on life, effectively meeting the many demands of life. According to the International Institute for Educational Planning, psychosocial support “recognises the importance of the social context in addressing the psychological impact of stressful events experienced in emergencies... Parents, teachers and learners were affected by the abrupt disruption of life.

The loss of livelihoods for parents and some teachers no doubt affected the children’s mental health, which in turn worsened the parents” psychological well-being. Children do not exist in a vacuum and most often, their family’s struggles spill over to their classroom environment.

There is an urgent need to facilitate reconstruction of social structures. To ensure success, the Education ministry should scale up interventions that can be implemented with help from family members, teachers and community health workers. At school, teachers should be trained on effective non-intrusive communication skills that can help identify and care for learners experiencing psychosocial challenges. The skills can also come in handy in offering support to fellow teachers and other staff members to ensure a holistic approach to the psychosocial well-being within the school environment.

At the household and community levels, community health workers should have targeted programmes that help identify families needing psychosocial support, especially those that might have lost their income- generating activities due to Covid-19. Offering financial support to such families to help them rebuild their economic lives should be the first step in the intervention process. Equipping parents with necessary skill sets to offer emotional care to the children in a loving, non-judgmental manner will also ensure continuity in the psychosocial support system for children away from school.

Better results

Community-based approaches to psychosocial support interventions have been found to yield better results than individualised approaches. This is more necessary in modern times where the sense of community has dwindled, giving rise to isolated family units, each with their unique set of rules governing social behaviour. County governments should identify and train more psychosocial health champions to help build resiliency of families and entire communities, especially during these trying times.

Programmes should focus on equipping community members with positive coping strategies in the face of life’s challenges. With the improvement of the collective psychosocial well-being of the community, it is inevitable that individual members, including children and young adults will make the right choices whenever faced with challenges. Most importantly, children and youth will learn to open up on their psychological challenges with the understanding that they live in a loving and supportive community environment.

As learners settle in for their second term, there is need for stakeholders to work together to ensure a holistic, community-based approach to offering the psychosocial support to parents, teachers and students.

-Dr Kalangi is a communications lecturer and trainer at Kenyatta University

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