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Helping teachers help students

Date: 20 December, 2022

Writer : Mehdi Hassan & Zunaira Khan
Source : Dhaka Tribune

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

20 December, 2022
Writer : Mehdi Hassan & Zunaira Khan
Source : Dhaka Tribune
· Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Helping teachers help students

Helping teachers help students

After the results of the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams, an examinee from Noakhali was found to have committed suicide as his results were not up to his expectations. In a similar story in Dhaka, an 18-year-old female student had jumped off the building at her school premises.

Both these incidents had one common reason — being unable to cope with the excessive stress related to studies, uncertainties about the future, and peer pressure. Many such cases have gone unreported both in rural and urban areas, suppressing the students’ pleas of help.

Additionally, while the Covid-19 pandemic has receded, parents and teachers alike have seen a rise in disruptive behaviour in students since the reopening of schools this year.

This is not surprising as the school closures for close to two years inevitably led to a lack of social interaction among the students and coupled with the prolonged use of digital technologies, it inevitably put them through expected physical and physiological stress.

However, beyond the physical and the physiological effects are the mental stresses that are, unfortunately, often overlooked in Bangladesh and which have only exacerbated over the two years of school closures during the pandemic.

While many schools have tried to implement tailored solutions, such as having a counselling centre to address these problems, there has been little to no effect.

This is especially true in rural or marginalized areas where there exist numerous challenges — the lack of access to proper healthcare and skilled professionals providing it, rank as the most serious of the aforementioned challenges.

Yet, to dismiss stigmas as only a rural problem would be unwise as it is not only the rural and marginalized areas that suffer from the stigma against mental health; when it comes to the mental health of school-going children, parents and teachers alike do not understand how serious the problem is.

Several questions may arise — why do teachers not take preventive measures with anxious and frustrated students? Why are some students feeling misunderstood despite being under the supervision of so many teachers?

There are tens of millions of secondary and higher secondary students in approximately 50,000 institutions. Among them, as per data from the Monitoring and Evaluation Wing of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), roughly 30-40% of students between the ages of 12 to 18 were suffering from some form of mental illness — which had largely stemmed over the past two years.

There is little doubt that an intervention was required. Students across Bangladesh have suffered enormous learning loss that is certainly important to address, but equally important is the need to understand just what the capacity is for school-going children to even try to go back to school after such long closures and disruption to their everyday lives.

To address this dire need of psychosocial well-being for secondary level students across the country, a2i (Aspire to Innovate) program’s e-learning platform MuktoPaath launched “Psychosocial First Aid (PFA),” a series of online training courses catered towards teachers at the secondary level in August 2022.

Under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, DSHE realized the importance of this training regarding a teacher’s role in student’s well-being and mandated it for all teachers nationwide.

There are ongoing efforts to make this online training available at all school-levels and disseminate it further to all. The intent of the government is also clear to see here, as the course is readily accessible at all times and free for all on a2i’s MuktoPaath platform.

Designed as the first part of a teacher’s preparedness plan regarding mental health, this course is the stepping stone for teachers to not only learn more about mental health themselves but also the tools to then interact with students in the appropriate manner.

What has been heartwarming to see is that the course, which takes approximately three to four hours to complete on an average, has reached over 260,000 teachers within a month and amongst them, over 90% have completed the training, making them readily available to assist students. The real-time monitoring through MuktoPaath’s dashboard has also been beneficial to identify which teachers have yet to complete the course.

With the aim to raise awareness and fundamental understanding of mental health care amongst instructors while taking into account the general condition of students, teachers are expected to be empowered with knowledge to identify primary forms of treatments or remedials in times of urgency.

It is also a matter of pride for Bangladesh that the course content has been developed and provided by a joint effort of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Johns Hopkins University, USA, and is hosted in MuktoPaath’s platform.

This course has led to teachers pro-actively taking steps to combat the stress and anxiety which students face, whether that be during the competitive annual exams, dealing with peer pressure, or dealing with difficult social situations.

There is also scope for further research to be conducted in analyzing and understanding teachers’ needs to overcome gaps in building a positive teacher-student relationship.

It is to be remembered that Bangladesh is committed to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and therefore the effort by DSHE has been very positive and is helping with contributing to achieving SDG 3 — Good Health and well-being.

The changes are already here to see through the testimonials in various social media platforms, with teachers like Nasima Akhter from Sylhet expressing her interest upon completing the course on learning more about the mental well-being of students to create a safer and more reliable learning environment.

With hundreds of thousands of teachers that have already taken this course to the millions of teachers who are expected to take it, we can look forward to seeing a paradigm shift in Bangladeshi teachers and their understanding of their students’ well-being, and the hope is that this can also be passed down to the parents in due time.

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