Each student is unique, but their learning experiences vary greatly. More so, for vulnerable students as they need a different kind of support with their education. Vulnerable students are young people who need extra attention and help. The kind of support required to achieve desired learning outcomes for vulnerable students directly depends on the type of vulnerability the student is exposed to.
Covid-19 and Vulnerable students
The covid-19 pandemic is a significant challenge that can be discussed extensively here. Can we identify vulnerable students, reach out to them and create a positive impact on them? Let’s discuss this.
As the UNICEF reports note, “We know from previous health emergencies that children are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence, and abuse when schools are closed, social services are interrupted and movement is restricted.”
It is striking to note here that COVID-19 has aggravated all causes of students becoming more vulnerable. Also, we can assume that normal children might have become vulnerable students if adversity has affected them.
Types of vulnerability that require extra assistance –
- Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND),
- Students with mental or physical health issues,
- Young people with behavioural difficulties such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or emotional disturbance,
- Students who are in difficult circumstances like low socio-economic status, lack of access to resources,
- Students are affected by some natural or man-made disasters, pandemics, epidemics, wars, etc.
Reasons for vulnerability in students as schools remained closed due to COVID-19
- Loss of parents or caregivers
- Mental or physical health issues
- Domestic violence, alcohol or drug addictions
- Lack of adequate access to remote learning facilities
- Pushed into Child labor to meet the financial crisis
How can schools identify and reach vulnerable students post-COVID-19?
- By identifying reduced or deteriorating performance in schools and loss of interest in learning
- By overseeing any withdrawal from activities of any kind and poor interaction with other learners
- Monitoring the change in appetite causing loss or gain of weight and neglect of health, hygiene, and cleanliness
- By observing behavioral problems like anxiety, anger, isolation, etc.
- By identifying a lack or reduced parental involvement
5 strategies to reach and impact vulnerable students after Covid-19
A COVID-19 break of several months may have had a devastating impact on a student’s motivation, progress, and learning. Thus, more than before, it’s time for schools to continue to put people and compassion at the center of their decisions. Knowing that vulnerable students need extra support to come back to normal, schools should prepare strategies to play a vital role in their lives.
1. Prioritize continuity
For vulnerable students who have been exposed to unknown traumas during Covid, building rapport with and confidence in others is quite challenging. Thus, create resilience and familiarity in school so that they feel safe.
Put them into a class where they are familiar to the teacher and a few students at least. This strategy will assure them that they are in a conducive environment. When these students confide in any school personnel, keep it personal unless there is a need to disclose for further interventions. The students under concern should be shown empathy and not judged.
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2. Keep contact with non-returning students
There may be chances that parents of some vulnerable students might not send them back to school for whatever reasons. School staff and teachers should plan to reach out to such students, counsel them to join back, provide all necessary support and guidance, and accompany them.
3. Focus on the academic, mental and physical well-being of vulnerable students
No doubt, the covid-19 period of school closures has created a disconnect in learning and learning gaps too. Vulnerable students are far more drifted from learning due to the above several stated reasons.
Installing interest in learning, identifying the learning gap, and bridging by remedial methods along with student-specific learning should be a key priority in school.
Covid hit vulnerable students, who may be psychologically affected too. They might have low and disturbed morale. Also by not indulging in many physical activities, they might become physically weak and prone to infections easily.
So the physical and mental well-being of such children should be addressed and taken care of considerably by the school through physical fitness and good Mental health practices. In dire cases, involvement, suggestions, and opinions of Physical health and or mental health experts should be taken.
4. Follow-up and continuous monitoring
After the Covid-19 break, Vulnerable students could have become very sensitive, and thus dealing with them to create a positive impact is not a single-day task. It can only happen gradually. Thus continuous follow-up and monitoring are necessary to see an improvement.
Continuous support and checking-in followed by referral resources are needed. Enquire the child whether any kind of assistance was received and in any severe cases report to higher officials for interventions and follow-up. In the process, the child should never be belittled or insulted.
5. School-Community partnerships should be built
Schools and social community services should create partnerships. This ensures maintaining and continuing a collective response to the needs of vulnerable children and their families. School principals could contact community organizations, compile available resources and share this information with families.
Needless to say, we need to reimagine the future for every child, which includes vulnerable students also. This can be achieved not only in India but worldwide by working in the following directions mentioned by UNICEF.
- For vaccines to work, we must build trust
- Bridging the digital divide can help bring quality education to all children
- COVID-19 has unlocked attention on global youth mental health
- COVID-19 does not discriminate, but our societies do
- Climate change is the other planetary crisis that won’t wait
Vulnerable students deserve a high-quality education just as much as any student, and those who require additional support must have access to it, especially if they aren’t able to attend school in person.
We as a school and parents and society should be passionate about supporting students in helping them deliver their best and ensure they can continue learning regardless of their situation. As a precautionary plan for the future, students of all kinds, whether vulnerable or not, should be prepared to smartly tackle and deal with any situation that might turn them into vulnerable students.