Adolescents, school children were the first to be ‘locked down’ as schools closed as soon as the pandemic’s risk became known in India. These children have been inside their homes, many a times without any space of their own, since they are old enough to be given responsibilities, but still children needing parental permissions. While all of this has been for their safety, it is very important to see them as beings with agency, with child rights that include the right to expression, leisure, play, development. When much older college students and even adults are finding online classes/work from home hugely frustrating, how are these growing children – at an age when they most need to be outside, making and meeting friends, engaging with the world – dealing with online school? How are they finding avenues for expression? How worse is it for girls, children living in one-room homes? What advantages do children from the ground already have (like a participant said – “parents in communities organically tend to teach their children more life lessons, pay attention to their actual growing up rather than only their academic development in comparison to a privileged home where academics sometimes overtakes everything else”) and where do they need support? What are the most important things to keep in mind for the mental health of adolescents? 

To address such questions and understand the mental health of adolescents, a training session was held for stakeholders from different sectors such as education, health & social work as well as Anubhuti team members on 5th December, 2020. The objective of the session was to train stakeholders connected to school going children in understanding the mental justice of adolescents and effectively work with them for their mental development and empowerment. This was essentially a ToT, after which participants implemented what they learnt the very next day on occasion of Dr. Ambedkar Mahaparinirvan Diwas, respecting his call to see education as a medium of intellectual revolution.

On the next day i.e. 6th December, the participants facilitated a full day workshop with school going (or drop out) children at our Kolegaon centre. The workshop was on facilitating adolescents’ understanding of their own emotions, identifying imbalances, encouraging age-appropriate dealing methods. This workshop was then followed up by noting down issues shared by the children, to be taken up for counselling if needed. From the very next day, a schedule was drawn up to hold after school classes with these children – these are for all children who want to study, who need extra help with studies, who are finding it difficult to keep up with online studies or who simply want to gain extra help and shine brighter. The response has been very good. In this entire process, the youth group of Kolegaon as usual took initiative in mobilizing younger children, taking care of logistics, taking messages to them about their next classes and so on.

Anubhuti has been working with schools and related stakeholders to make education a mental health friendly and mentally just space. This was an initiative towards this in context of the pandemic, since schools remain shut.