Giving students time for recovery and learning

Giving students time for recovery and learning

Since early 2020, Australia’s bushfires and then the pandemic have rapidly altered our ways of living and learning. As time goes on, the one thing that is certain is unpredictability, requiring flexibility and constant adjustments.

It isn’t helpful to catastrophise. As Professor John Hattie from Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne pointed out in 2020 , evidence tells us that students can generally cope with school closures under various dramatic circumstances.

On the other hand, there are also risks associated with being too complacent and failing to take this opportunity to learn from adversity. The cumulative impacts of mass emergency events can increase the risk of poor mental health and development, depending on factors such as the severity of the experience, age, personality differences and family circumstances. What does this mean for our children’s wellbeing and learning?

Over the past two years, many Victorian children have been exposed to multiple natural disasters as well as repeated and prolonged lockdowns due to COVID-19. International studies looking at the impact of quarantine on children and youth identify a range of physical and psychological impacts , the consequences of which might not be apparent until years down the track.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in its report on the COVID-19 impact on youth stated that “nearly half of the national school student population are vulnerable to negative impacts from learning at home, due to their age, social disadvantage, specific needs (including physical or psychological needs or language support) or family employment context”.

Previous research we conducted with colleagues , following the schools affected by the Black Saturday bushfires, showed that up to four years later many students weren’t progressing as expected in reading and maths compared to their peers. The patterns of lower academic scores were still evident up to eight years later. Supporting schools to support students

A 2020 report noted that schools can make a major contribution to students’ capacity to cope with mass emergency events when they provide social and emotional learning programs.

It is important to emphasise that the majority of both students and staff will show resilience in the long run to these adverse experiences. However, a significant minority will be at increased risk of prolonged psychological distress and/or the development of a mental health disorder.

We have previously advocated for a range of additional supports for school communities adversely impacted by disaster , including increased administrative support for school staff, the provision of social and emotional learning programs for students, professional trauma support post-disaster, and additional learning support for students.

A Stepped Care approach is recommended for supporting psychosocial recovery in children and adults following a disaster. This includes providing low-level support immediately post-event that encourages and […]

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