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Coronavirus: psychologist warns of damage to kids from school closures

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Cabinet will decide next week on when lower secondary school (gymnasium) pupils will return to in-class lessons, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said on Friday.

His statements came as psychologist Antonis Raftis urged the return of all pupils to class, boosting calls from parents who have been lobbying the government to open all the schools as a matter of urgency.

Lower high school pupils are still learning online under decrees aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus as are pupils of primary schools in Limassol. All other pupils have returned to in-person teaching.

Gymnasium-school parents, who had expected their children to return to class in mid-March, have staged protests, piling on pressure on the government to reverse what they have slammed as a discriminatory and counter-productive policy.

Gymnasium pupils have been learning online since before Christmas, something which has taken a toll on their education and mental health, the parents say.

Last week, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou acknowledged the problem and said he sympathised with pupils and their parents but urged patience.

The decree ends on March 31 and Prodromou, who was touring schools in Larnaca, said a decision on the date of reopening will be taken by cabinet next week.

He said that although he could not pre-judge decisions to be taken by cabinet, the ministry’s position was that children should be back in class as soon as health conditions allow and expressed the hope that gymnasium pupils will be back in class from April.

“We all agree, the parents want this, the teachers are expecting the children, the ministry is ready and of course we will adapt the teaching and the procedures at schools, taking into consideration this academic year and what has happened so far,” he said.

The government’s scientific advisors have submitted additional proposals are regards the health protocols at the schools and these are being reviewed, he said.

Earlier on Friday, Raftis told the Cyprus News Agency that pupils unable to meet up in school do so outside school, leading to violations of the health protocols and decrees. It was an exaggeration therefore to prevent them from going to school, as they would find alternative ways to satisfy their need to socialise.

Young people find other ways to socialise which are more dangerous because at school there are checks from teachers regarding compliance with health protocols, he added.

“Those in charge should realise that you cannot constrain a young person who has energy in such a way for as long as this pandemic has been going on… there should have been a special approach to the young by now.”

Because of these restrictions, young people may exhibit anger and negativity. “Because of the pandemic, we do not have human communication, we have distancing. It is depressing at schools to see children talking to each other two metres apart. How is a young person to show their feelings? How will they play when they do not have physical contact?” he queried.

Children are brought up to shake hands, exchange kisses, show affection but all this is now prohibited because of the pandemic.

Online learning was impersonal, he noted, with young people missing out on contact with their school mates and teachers and are instead isolated at home in front of a computer. This creates a coldness and makes the young person more remote.

Young people who do not socialise become more aggressive, there are family problems, problems with their education and there will be an increase in youth violence, he added.

“Young people should be trusted more. Of course, there should be more training on how to behave during these critical days with the pandemic so that they shoulder their responsibilities. But pupils must return to school under conditions so that they are not led to break the law in order to socialise, something which increases health risks,” he concluded.

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