The Effect of the Pandemic on Small Children’s Development – Lisbeth Gouin

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Lisbeth Gouin

For the past year, the humanitarian crisis brought about by COVID-19 and its unprecedented consequences have shaken the whole world. The lockdown and the restrictions on many activities, including the shut down of schools and early childhood care centers, brought sanitary and psychological consequences, which are worrying, even frustrating, to many societies. 

Field studies carried out by NGOs have shown the multiple consequences, which may vary in their severity, in the physical and mental health of small children and their families. I will not mention all the consequences, but I will focus on the points that I consider most salient.

Firstly, during the lockdown in areas where the vulnerable part of the population suffers from poverty and precarity, women were not able to get to dispensaries or hospitals to give birth, and so the mothers and their newborns did not receive care nor the essential vaccinations.

In a report from OMEP-Kenya written in May, 2020, it is stated that: “The Ministry of Health pointed out that there has been a dramatic decline in the number of people requiring medical services in hospitals and health centers. Many people have resorted to traditional herbs and online prescriptions since they were afraid of going to a hospital because of COVID-19. This has had a significant effect on prenatal and postnatal clinics, which have very few records of essential vaccinations administered to children. The Ministry highlighted the dangers that may arise from this situation in the near future.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has been an increase in forced marriages and teenage pregnancies, and we know that unsupported and unwanted pregnancies are frightening for both the mother and the baby. Poverty and malnutrition lead to delicate situations that will certainly have an impact on the physical and mental development of “the pandemic babies”.

In France, several phonoaudiologists, psychologists and pediatricians are wondering about the impact that the use of face masks in kindergartens can have. If the general measure of wearing masks is justified, then it is reasonable to wonder: What are the pathologies that can be developed by children who never knew “the world before COVID-19”?

“Through the emotions displayed on the face, children learn to express their own emotions and understand those of other people. Learning to communicate and understand emotions is important because it is what makes us social beings and teaches us empathy,” says phonoaudiologist Virginie Pellion.

Psychologist Marie-Paule Thollon Behar, who holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology, has analysed the effects of masks on cognitive development, communication, comprehension and production of language in children: “From the point of view of language comprehension, we found that wearing face masks represents an obstacle in three aspects: the message itself and its clarity, its illocutionary function (1), and the identification of the speaker”.

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini warns us about the pandemic’s visible effects on mental health: “In Thailand, a survey recently carried out by the UN on 6,771 students, in collaboration with Thailand’s Council for Child and Youth Development, has found that over 7 in 10 children and teenagers claim that the pandemic has affected their mental health, causing stress, uneasiness and anxiety. Additionally, more than half the students who took part in the survey expressed their concern about school work, exams and future studies and employment, while 7% reported domestic violence.”

In fact, NGOs describe the difficulties that many parents, from different social backgrounds, encounter as a result of the sanitary, economic and social situation which has brought about stress, loss of self-confidence, and even psychological suffering that can breed violence at home. The Framework for Action adopted at Incheon (Republic of Korea) in the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO recommends “supporting families for they are the ones who protect and educate children in the first place.

We should bear in mind these warnings and these field studies and work together, forging an alliance between the civil society, institutions and governments to maintain or even increase education budgets in these times of crisis. We should also demand that these budgets be allocated in full transparency so that children’s education is efficient, operational and high-quality, and cooperation among educators and parents is strengthened in order to ensure the physical and mental well-being of children. 

Future generations are the ones who will be an example of resilience to escape from the stigmas left by the catastrophe associated with COVID-19. We have to look after them and help them in any way we can.

  1. Not only is language used for exchanging information, but it also triggers action: that is its illocutionary function.


NGOs that show solidarity during the pandemic:

Lisbeth GOUIN is a certified French national education teacher, specialized in the education of disabled children, pioneer in the creation of a small Franco-Panamanian school in 1972, teacher of the French Alliance, member of a team for an experimental pedagogy in a school of open space in Paris, principal of a primary school in Paris. With a large investment in associations, Lisbeth Gouin represents OMEP in UNESCO for 10 years, participates in the collective work of NGOs / UNESCO for reflection, the organization of forums or the international conferences on education, global citizenship and More specifically, education for peace.

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