A 13-year-old student preparing to write the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on June 10 attempted to commit suicide on Monday and has blamed online schooling and the resultant pressure being placed on them to perform as the reason behind it.
The student, who attends a primary school in the North Eastern Education District, ingested an unknown amount of bleach around 6 am on Monday, while her grandmother was preparing for work.
Reaching out to her teacher for help almost immediately after taking the substance, the student explained what she had done.
The teach immediately contacted the child’s guardian, who still was unaware of what had taken place. The shocked woman rushed the child to the Arima Health Facility, where she was treated and stabilised before being transferred to the Paediatric Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.
Interviewed by a psychiatrist in the presence of the police and her relatives, the student admitted that her reason for ingesting the bleach was because she was “stressed over exam preparation” and that she did not want to attend any more online classes.
Contacted yesterday, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly described it as a “very unfortunate and sad situation” and extended best wishes to the student for a full recovery.
“Many factors contribute to a child taking this type of drastic action. Frustration with online classes may be a factor but there are likely many others which could play a role,” Gadsby-Dolly said.
Saying that there are school social workers available for both face-to-face and online sessions at this time, she urged parents who are concerned about changes in behaviour displayed by their children to contact them through teachers or the school principals.
Primary and secondary schools across T&T have been closed since March 16, 2020 - four days after this country’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 12, 2020.
Following the introduction of online schooling in the early part of last year, a cohort of 19,201 students wrote the SEA exam on August 20, 2020.
And although they secured a placement at secondary schools, the current batch of Form One students are yet to physically meet their teachers and classmates.
Saddened over the incident, National Council of the Parent-Teacher Association (NCPTA) PRO Shamila Raheem said, “Children were really looking forward to going out to schools and it is a major step back right now for these kids.”
On March 18, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley repeated an earlier assurance that if the country’s COVID-19 numbers remained low throughout the two-week Easter vacation period, Standard Five students would have been allowed to return to the physical classroom on April 12.
However, following a meeting with health officials last week, permission was not granted for this as the country’s cases began to spike once again.
Raheem added, “Children are in their homes day in, day out. They are not being allowed to go and do certain recreational things anymore because of the COVID situation so they are even more stifled than before.”
Bracing for more incidents of this nature, the NCPTA officer added, “As every day goes by, we are seeing more and more cases of depression and frustration presenting.”
Calling on the ministry to provide more support for students and their families as there are some who are in dire need of things, Raheem suggested the inclusion of school counsellors on the Zoom platform so they can interact with students to “get an idea of how they are feeling and if they need to talk.”
She said the simple offer of a number to a student who is depressed or upset and unwilling to speak in front of classmates, could save a life.
Gadsby-Dolly agreed that “children need to get back to school for more than just classroom teaching as the social interaction is critical.”
She added her voice to those appealing for persons to adhere to the public health regulations.
“It is for this reason that the population has been urged to cooperate in keeping our numbers down so that children can resume face to face school in the shortest time possible,” she said.