The case of a suicide of a high school student in Gowa Regency, South Sulawesi, some time ago during online learning has been disheartening.
The motive is believed to be linked with mental pressure resulting from a learning disability.
Though it is not the first case, we need to heed students’ learning disabilities and mental issues in a solemn and considered manner. In response to this problem, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) has demanded the provincial education office find out whether school principals and teachers violated the guidelines for implementing online learning. They require teachers to pay attention to problems facing students when accessing the internet for learning.
A classmate of the victim told the police that his friend complained of the heavy burden of studying while their internet connection was unreliable. The local education office and school authority dismissed speculation that a heavy workload was behind the boy’s decision to end his life. Instead, they linked the incident to the child’s personal life.
The complexity of online learning — the digital divide in remote areas and the problem of internet speed — amid the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the crucial issue that our children are slowly but surely falling into mental disorder. The pressure of online learning involving both teachers and students has brought about a serious mental health issue among schoolchildren. School is a microcosm of society; therefore, anxious children will become a new burden for society. We do not know the exact percentage increase in schoolchildren with mental crises who should be taken to the doctor or hospital.
As a lecturer and an academic supervisor, I often listen to my students’ complaints about how they do not get support, both in friendships and professionally, such as access to a counsellor, to figure out their complex problems. Shyness and insecure finances make them push aside their inner pressures, while in fact, this calls for emotional channel and professional touch.
A similar issue befalls school children. It will have an impact in the future without quick prevention and serious treatment, particularly when schools begin to run a normal life with face-to-face interactions. In this condition, children with mental pressure have the potential to bring violence against teachers and other students. Although not all students with health problems commit acts of violence, violence in schools is a grave problem.
Violence due to mental problems has taken a heavy toll in many places. In the state of Western Australia recently, the State School Teachers Union of Western Australia received reports of several incidents involving violence against teachers. There was an elementary school teacher who had to undergo dental surgery after being attacked by his student. Elsewhere, a school principal had to confiscate a knife from his student, who was eventually suspended for threatening someone with a screwdriver. Also, there was another teacher who was punched and his hair was dragged by his student. His head hit the pavement.
Violence in schools is a community problem, not merely a school problem. Yet, often schools must address the serious issues of violence and mental health among students themselves. In this context, teachers and principals are forced to take on the function of the counsellor. Teachers running classes with twenty students or more are impelled to act as mental health counsellors instead of focussing on teaching. The same thing has happened to the role of a school principal. Much to everybody’s surprise, a principal occasionally decides not to teach or support teachers but acts to coordinate and bring various services together to help students. Despite their help, schools cannot be fully be equipped to single-handedly solve the dilemmas coming from the students’ families or the community.
Hence, mental disorders that afflict students will turn into a ticking timebomb because they can explode at any time and manifest as violence. This will affect the quality of teaching and learning in schools on the one hand, and the school-parent relationship on the other. This necessitates systematic and professional handling.
The need for systematic resources and infrastructure to support students exhibiting extreme behaviour is vital. This, for example, could start with the allocation of funds and the addition of adequate professional staff in schools for counselling. Doing both is just like burning the candle at both ends. However, students’ mental health issues cannot be tackled half-heartedly or semi-professionally by leaving it in the hands of the classroom teacher. This requires professional counsellors that can create support systems and services in schools that are easily accessible to students and parents.
We should not haggle for our children’s better future. School life is a seminal moment to precipitate students’ mental transformation on their way to becoming future intellectual leaders.