The education tool addressing COVID-19 student anxiety

Academics are drawing from the Christchurch earthquakes to understand how children will be affected long-term by COVID-19.

An educational resource has been developed to help teachers address trauma in students in a post-coronavirus world.

Christchurch teacher Ginny Thorner has been working through the effects of trauma and anxiety on her pupils for the last nine years.

"I had students who 'played earthquakes' immediately after the earthquakes, and they wanted to express and understand it through the play. 

"And we also have people who now even this many years later I'll occasionally get a student who'll say, 'Oh, is this going to be safe, what happens if there's an earthquake?'" she told Newshub.

Thorner's getting ready to do the juggling act again with COVID-19.

"You've got this really diverse community coming together with real human experiences but very, very different experiences of the same thing," she says.

While most of the deaths from COVID-19 in New Zealand are older people, the long term psychological burden is likely to fall on younger people.

"It's not good enough just to say, 'Let's go back and go back to what we were doing before'. Going back to whatever normal was isn't actually an option," says Professor Peter O'Connor from the University of Auckland's education department.

He says the effects may not start to reveal themselves until students come back to school.

"The levels of anxiety in Christchurch schools are still really high. And the reason for that is we didn't do anything about that immediately after the earthquake."

Drawing from his work with educators like Thorner, O'Connor has led the development of Te Rito Toi, an educational resource helping teachers work with children who've been through a traumatic or life-changing event. 

"When kids come back to school, the world's changed. They've changed, home has changed. And school needs to be different," O'Connor says.

The years 1 to 8 programme takes an arts and wellbeing approach, incorporating things like poetry, drawing, and drama.

"They're going to go back to school with lots of questions, lots of thoughts, lots of worries. The arts, the evidence tells us, is the best way to process that for teachers."

Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says in a human crisis like COVID-19, the arts are more important than ever.

"Using the arts as a mechanism to help children talk about those ideas, those feelings, their experiences, that's a really critical part of the early days of children returning to school.

"It really is about young people not having to learn and regurgitate learning, this is about young people expressing their thinking and expressing their feelings."

And Te Rito Toi is already getting international attention. O'Connor says he's had interest from Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and the US as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.