As schools resume today, calls for bereavement therapy for learners have intensified. Namibia lost 2 227 people to Covid-19 during a deadly third wave of infections in June and July.
Students’ Union of Namibia (SUN) encouraged bereavement therapy for learners and students to deal with the psychological effects brought about by the pandemic.
Schools that have been on an extended winter holiday are expected to open for face-to-face teaching and learning today.
Many Namibians have been and continue to be affected by Covid-19. Almost 120 000 have tested positive for the coronavirus and 3 080 have died so far, according to official statistics by the ministry of health.
This situation has left adverse psychological effects on the families who lost loved ones, especially children who are orphaned due to the pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “fear, worry and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats – and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So, it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as Covid-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives, as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, the homeschooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental as well as our physical, health.”
SUN secretary general Benhard Kavau said Covid-19 has caused trauma to students and learners because they have lost their loved ones, lecturers, family and friends. Therefore, SUN believes there is a need for bereavement therapy, which can be done by expanding counselling services.
Education minister Anna Nghipondoka assured the ministry is training teachers who will deal with psychosocial support among learners.
“Having noticed we have lost many teachers, we know by the time we go back to schools, it will be problematic for learners to find out they lost their teachers and principals. That’s why the issue of psychosocial support is taken seriously, and it should not be taken for granted,” Nghipondoka said.
Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha agreed there is a need for psychosocial support among the learners.
However, he cautioned that in doing so, the education ministry should ensure pressure is not put on teachers, as they are also traumatised.
He, however, called for speedy implementation of such support in schools to assist those in need.
Jerry Motinga, Unam’s student representative councillor (SRC) for gender and community development, said fear of contracting Covid-19 is also affecting the mental health of students.
SRC president of International University of Management (IUM) Dingi Hendrik said Covid-19 lockdowns have resulted in people being isolated from one another, leading to solving problems alone – and consequently, mental stress.
Anna Petrus, a learner in Khomas region, said pupils fear that when they go to school, their teachers might be in isolation, which may hamper quality education.
There is also fear that schools might close, resulting in learners having to repeat grades.
Patrick Shimangwe, SRC resident of Triumphant College said Covid-19 has brought financial stress, adding some students’ funders have lost their jobs or their lives, which makes it difficult for students to register and pay for accommodation.
Therefore, student leaders pledged to promote and advocate for mental health awareness and increased support for one-on-one counselling services.
However, the director of education in Ohangwena, Isak Hamatwi, has advised teachers to offer psychosocial support to learners who have lost parents and guardians during the holiday.
Hamatwi has further advised teachers to observe learners’ behaviour so that those affected by Covid-19 do not bottle up emotions but instead get professional help.
Hamatwi said it is a known fact that learners and teachers have lost close relatives to Covid-19; hence, both learners and teachers should be professionally assisted to deal with the loss.
The director also recommends teachers who have been affected by the pandemic to seek support.
He appealed to parents to not send learners to school who are in isolation or those who have tested positive for Covid-19 until they are cleared.
The director has cautioned schools to adhere to the health protocols and said it is critical to sanitise and social distance to curb the spread of the virus.