© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Focus on wellbeing first, then school work

Jessica Swan

Students around the world are facing academic challenges during the Covid-19 lockdown, but mental wellbeing comes first, educators say.

New Zealand Principals' Federation vice president Dr. Cherie Taylor-Patel said the family unit was critical for students.

"Parents need to be positive, to be supportive, to be encouraging and to help students," she said.

Not all parents would want to be educators but they could facilitate learning by "setting up a space to learn, a routine for days and to help with activities", Taylor-Patel said.

Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto principal Sandy Hastings said the government was setting a good example of using intentional positive language, which was essential to creating a successful, stable culture in this period of isolation.

"I've been really impressed with the very deliberate and explicit change that the government has made away from the international language of 'social distancing' to talking about 'physical distancing' and 'social connection'," Hastings said.

She said it recognised the importance for people of staying socially connected for their mental wellbeing.

Overseas, Cecilia Andsjö, a student at the Collège du Léman in Geneva, Switzerland, said she was disappointed with her school’s communication. It has led to anxiety and confusion.

"Communications from our school are not very efficient. My teachers personally did not really answer our questions."

She said having a supportive family unit was having a positive impact on her wellbeing.

"I do feel informed and cared for but that is not thanks to my school and the government," du Léman said.

Home-educator, Fiona Cleary, said supporting students was less about their age and more about their individual needs.

"While it is helpful to recognise that different developmental stages come with their unique set of challenges or tasks, it is important to apply these judiciously so as not to lose sight of the individual."

She said consistency and humility were important in providing a stable environment at home.

"I work on my own mental wellbeing so that I can be a stable anchor," she said.

The student care team at the University of Canterbury reiterated the value in students prioritising family.

Similarly, Caitlin Schmidt, a student at Southern Cross University in Gold Coast, Australia, said her university's digital communication had "made the transition super easy".