Kenya: Ensure Mental Health of Pupils While At School

12 January 2021

Covid-19 mitigation strategies such as social distancing, handwashing, face masks, sanitising, fumigation and others have been given precedence following the reopening of schools after the 10-month pandemic-instigated break, mental wellbeing in schools has been relegated to the periphery.

Reports of the Covid-19 explosion, retrenchment and economic recession have caused a mental health crisis in the country.

In schools are learners, teachers and non-teaching staff who have undergone severe emotional and psychological trauma after losing a family member or being infected with the virus, hence the need for them to be handled in a humane and empathetic manner.

Covid-19-related stigma and discrimination should not be condoned. More importantly, head teachers should not allow injustice, human rights abuses or intimidation to occur at school.

Some learners may have inadvertently developed youthful bravado and teenage rebellion during the long break, while others may be victims of laziness and moral turpitude after being pampered by their parents.

Teachers may come across students who are obstreperous, obstinate, recalcitrant and melodramatic who portray squalid and daffy behaviour in class. Still, many were subjected to child labour, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, sexual relationship and exploitation, FGM and other crude rites of passage, consumption of narcotics, debauchery and licentiousness. Worse, they were susceptible to manipulation, indoctrination and brainwashing.

Therefore, skyrocketing cases of daggy, dishevelled, indisciplined learners at school who want to efface themselves might not be uncommon. Many may experience psychological and cognitive problems due to prolonged and protracted school closure, hence cognitive dissonance, thus making in-person learning a nightmare.

Emotional disorientation

Many learners have undergone psychological and emotional disorientation during the pandemic. And they want to unburden themselves to someone who is empathetic but not a pedantic pedagogue.

Professional teachers are cognizant of the importance of educational psychology and strategies for mitigating the tyranny of mental disorders.

There is unprecedented urgency for schools to incorporate counsellors, education psychologists, psychotherapists, clergy, social workers, mentors and health professionals in addressing these problems.

Synergy between the ministries of Education, Interior and Health in this endeavour is paramount. Failure to address psychosomatic problems can easily lead to cases of dismal cognition, poor academic performance and dropout.

Even with resource constraints, the need for expeditious and pragmatic enhancement of mental health services in schools cannot be overstated. Without mental health, there is no health.

Mr Muthama, a business management and strategic management lecturer at JKUAT, is a consultant and author.

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