Student Mental Health during the Pandemic – PITSTOP 7: Interview With Saumya

1. Please tell us something about yourself?

Behavioral nudges, gender, and learning are the three circles of my Venn diagram at the intersection of which I design my work life. I co-founded Barefoot Edu to work with the educational systems and leaders to create a society where every child has the freedom and foundation to think, feel, and dream. Looking at work through a gender-sensitive lens, I aim to create gender progressive workspaces and educational institutes.
I love brainstorming on new ideas and the program designer in me takes these ideas to reality. Doodling, DIY, and learning languages keep me stimulated during my personal time.

2. What is your advice to students in lockdown?

My advice would be to take care of themselves. The lockdown has allowed us to connect with ourselves and for students especially I think it’s a brilliant time to do so. As a student, a lot of what we do is defined by others in our life: school, parents, and even peers. This specific time allows us to really find ourselves, find what sparks joy for us, discover what we like.

3. How do you envision education after lockdown?

We have an opportunity to reimagine what is the purpose of education. In the rut of aligning with the ways of the world; the attachment towards high academic achievement has only been increasing. COVID19 shows us that the world as we know it has changed, so must the purpose of education. It gives us the time and space to pause and reflect. Here, I see a scope for truly reimagining learning. My hope for our schooling system is to recognize the need to look at schools as custodians of development and not bearers of knowledge. What this perspective does is to reimagine schools as centers of community development, carers for children, and the captains who help us navigate into the new world. I envision an education that truly puts the child at the center, weighs in equally to the emotional needs of children as to their creativity as to their intelligence. 

COVID makes it harder for us to connect with each other but it has also shown us how important it is to connect with ourselves and with fellow beings. I hope that education can embody this human approach where we genuinely care for and help our children grow into empathetic beings.

4. What is your point of view about digital learning?

I think it’s the need for the new paradigm. I’ve so far been an advocate of keeping children’s exposure to technology very limited especially till age 7. But this generation is growing into technology and we need to adapt our mindset to accept that. The pandemic does show a really huge divide in digital access. 40% of the children in our classrooms don’t have access to a smartphone and even when we say 60% do have–there is typically one smartphone in the household which then needs to be shared by the 2-3 children of the house. The moment the parents start working, even access to that phone is not there. We need to focus on digital access. We’ve launched an initiative in this direction to create a digital infrastructure to enable children to continue their learning. 

5. How do you think we can foster SEL during the times of digital learning?

This question is pertinent now more than ever. While the digital space harbors a certain distance when compared to in-person interactions, it has been created over the years to reduce this sense of distance. I feel the basic ambits of empathy can still be applied to a digital space. We all have a need to be heard, felt understood, and to experience a human connection. All of these can be achieved even through simple check-ins about genuinely caring for the wellbeing of fellow human beings. As long as we as individuals and organizations are mindful of the increased need to be sensitive, we can foster an environment where children can recognize and share their emotions. 

6. What was the impact of staying at home along with parents for kids?

Children pick up on cues from the elders. This time has been particularly challenging for certain sections of the population who have struggled for basic necessities. With basic needs not being met, it creates an environment of physical and emotional stress. Alongside, homes may not be safe spaces for children who are at a higher risk of being subjected to violence.


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