“This year (2021) has been extremely challenging for South African schooling, due to the profoundly negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant.
Ongoing isolation, uncertainty, economic strain, bereavement and loss have resulted in heightened anxiety, particularly for school going young South Africans.’’
That was one of the disturbing findings that were revealed by ‘Youth in the firing line of COVID-19 mental health pandemic.’ research which was also published on Daily Maverick
Conducted by Patti Silbert (PhD) and social worker Tembeka Mzozoyana the report suggests that community collaboration is the only to comprehensively deal with the ongoing mental impact of the pandemic on learners.
”Building a network of connections helps children understand that their bio-psychosocial experiences and challenges matter, and that ultimately, this is crucial in discovering themselves and understanding how to develop healthy relationships with others.” said the two researchers
In an exclusive interview with JHR, some of the schools Western Cape school leadership revealed what the belief is the major cause of mental health among learners. They also share their views about possible solutions to the problem at hand.
Phakamisani Primary school is one of Plettenberg Bay public schools that has a number of learners who have signs of being affected by mental health challenges.
According to Phakamisani Primary School principal Xola Faku, most of the learners’ mental health challenges are caused by socio-economic difficulties they are exposed in their homes.
”Yes, it is true that Covid 19 have exacerbated mental health and academic performance of many learners in our school. Unfortunately, some of these learners are exposed to many social ills.
Some of them are depressed by their seeing home struggles of their parents who have lost their income due to Covid 19 enforced lockdown.”
”Be that as it may, as the school we will try to bring the best out of them. We will do whatever we can to ensure that despite the unfortunate situation we are finding ourselves in, as the school we produce great results.”
Phakamisani Primary school sports facilitator and teacher Eric Busakwe shared the same sentiments with principal Faku.
According to Busakwe, contact sports have been proved to be one of the best mental stimulation instruments that can be used to improve learners’ academic progress and personal growth.
”I have learners who are not very gifted in academics but they used to perform well during the sports season. I think somehow sports gave them self-belief and the motivation to also excel in their academics.
On those bases, even though I completely understand and agree with the logic to temporarily put sports on hold, I still believe sports was good self-expression and actualization tool for some learners who are now depressed.”
No one will dispute that both Busakwe and Faku are correct. In a normal setting, sports in South African schools is considered to be one of the most fun yet effective tools for addressing mental health and anxiety for learners. However, social distancing Covid 19 fighting regulations forced all institutions of learning to temporarily suspend sports activities at schools.
Even though no reputable institutions have provided evidence that learners sports inactivity is one of the causes for escalating mental health challenges at schools, it is almost excusable that Phakamisani Primary School principal is correct to suggest that, bringing back extramural activities like sports would some remedy the situation.
However Faku and Busekwa’s views will only remain as that – views, which will not be implemented because four months ago the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) pulled the plug on all contact sports with immediate effect, following COVID-19 cluster outbreaks in public schools.
According to the department, this was subject to adherence to health and safety measures.
“During the last week in term one, school sports activity related COVID-19 outbreaks in Gauteng province were reported and have been gradually increasing in term two…’’
“Following the school sports activities related COVID-19 outbreaks in Gauteng and the general rise of cases in communities across the country, the Outbreak Response Team said that the risk was high when engaged within close-contact sports, especially with people who did not live together,” the department said.
By Siphokazi Mnyobe