Extracurricular for mental health
It seems that the Department of Education (DepEd) has learned all the wrong things in the pandemic. DepEd has prohibited extracurricular activities for the school year, as it aims for students to spend more time on academics as a catch-up for learning loss. It should have been apparent that the main reason for the loss of learning during the last two years was not that children didn’t have enough academic or lecture time, but that their school life was reduced to mere academic content and fulfillment of requirements. School became pure work. This led to a drastic loss of motivation, as can be seen by the increased number of students who have either dropped out or opted to take a prolonged leave of absence. This also led to a spike in mental health problems among students who feel burned out and feel that they were just requirement-churning robots. If anything, the first thing we should bring back is the holistic school environment—where they are provided opportunities for spontaneous socialization outside of class activities, where they are able to engage in physical and leisure activities, and where they can explore their various interests that may eventually help them decide on their future career path.
It is too simplistic to conclude that it is remote learning per se that contributed to learning loss. Rather, it is the inaccessibility of remote learning that was the culprit. Our country does not have, as of yet, the infrastructure to implement a public school system-wide remote learning setup. Beyond the lack of internet access and adequate devices, there has also not been any time allotted to the retraining of teachers for remote learning. As was painfully experienced by most teachers, remote teaching is not just a matter of uploading your slides. It is a completely different teaching philosophy with its own pedagogy—this requires not just days of workshops but a whole reeducation of teachers. Remote learning also demanded much more involvement of parents as they need to provide a suitable space for study within their homes, a luxury for most families. Parents also needed to swiftly learn how to set and enforce limits and structure for their children to enable them to focus. It wasn’t just the children whose mental health suffered but the parents as well. Simply put, remote learning did not work for most because we were simply not ready, and we used it poorly. I truly believe it can work if it was properly designed and prepared for. This was why some schools begged to be allowed to use a hybrid mode instead of the outright ban on remote classes by DepEd; teachers and schools see the potential benefit of remote learning and want to combine it with the advantages of face-to-face interactions. If you want to increase learning time, how about focusing on providing students with a full school day as opposed to the double and triple shifts of classes due to grossly inadequate classrooms? How about prioritizing the unburdening of administrative work from teachers, so they can focus on teaching preps to facilitate quality learning? Bans are easy, actually increasing the quality of learning is not.
Anyone who has followed my column knows that I often advocate for children to be allowed to go out and play. As a clinician and professor who has witnessed firsthand the struggles of children and youth as their days were abruptly confined to academic instruction, I pushed for the fastest, safest way for them to be able to access spaces for physical activity, socialization, and play. Guess what? Schools are those spaces. My wish list as a mental health professional is the immediate return of school clubs and organizations. I wish for the return of varsity of sports activities. I wish for the reopening of tambayans and other spaces where students can simply hang out. School curricula almost never focus explicitly on socioemotional development. Such development happens on the playground, on school fields and gazebos, on the walk home and back from school, during sneaked-in conversations with your seatmate, on games played during lunch and recess. Banning extracurricular activities will surely stunt their socioemotional development.
Extracurricular activities are genuine psychosocial support (as opposed to the generalized mention of DepEd that they were offering psychosocial activities while justifying the banning of extracurricular activities). Any mental health webinar or talk pushes for social, leisure, and physical activities. Counseling sessions will also recommend the same things. What is the point of attending such talks if they will not be allowed to implement what was recommended? Extracurricular activities promote mental health which, in turn, will support motivation to learn. Don’t ban the one thing that students were deprived of these past two years.
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