June 20. 2024. 2:16

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Mental health, Ukraine and Afghanistan at the heart of World Education Day 2023

Th European Commission and Vice President Josep Borrell made a statement ahead of the International Day of Education, acknowledging that access to education is a fundamental human right. The European Union remains committed to accelerating progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on quality education, which it recognizes as one of the most powerful investments societies can make in their future.

However, despite efforts from the EU, global progress towards SDG 4 has stalled, and attacks against education have increased worldwide. In many countries, girls, minorities, and displaced and refugee children are still being denied their right to education due to systematic barriers and gender-based discrimination. The EU has condemned all such attacks and is committed to investing in concrete, transformative actions for education, including increasing its external investments and supporting the UN-sponsored Youth Declaration on Transforming Education.

Borell added: “Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine has resulted in at least 3,045 educational facilities suffering bombing or shelling since 24 February 2022.” Such numbers will be incredibly difficult to replace and is likely to lead to deleterious long-term effects on the academic and social performance of Ukrainian children.

The EU is also making significant efforts to make education systems fit for the digital age and the green transformation through programs like Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe. The EU is also investing in teachers as they are central to improving the quality of learning and ensuring resilient education systems. Focus, however, must also be directed towards the growing mental health crisis both in Europe and in countries affected by war overseas.

Apart from the EU, UNICEF has emphasized the importance of prioritizing education to invest in children. The year 2023 marks the mid-point of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for people, planet, and prosperity, and the International Day of Education calls for maintaining strong political mobilization around education and translating global commitments into action.

One central piece of the puzzle of building a more resilient and effective educational system is ensuring that children are in the right mental frame of mind to learn. Mental health issues can be harder to diagnose in children, and many are lost in the system. Moreover, issues such as anxiety, depression and PTSD are associated with warzones and poverty, meaning that those who have the least access to education and mental health services are likely to be those in the direst need of it. Despite the EU commitment to investing at least 10% of the overall funding of Global Europe and of its humanitarian aid budget to education, funding remains scarce and additional national resources are unlikely to funnel towards overseas aid in the political milieu of austerity and inflation at home.


There are also no obvious options when it comes to ensuring the right to education is respected in hostile regimes such as in Afghanistan, or in fully war-mobilized countries such as Ukraine.

As such, cheaper, short-term solutions must be relied upon for the foreseeable future. Encouraging children and students to exercise regularly is crucial — physical activity helps to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood. Practising mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help children manage their emotions and feelings. Even the seemingly simple act of chewing sugar-free gum can help in mindfulness meditation by focusing on the action of chewing, and by providing stimuli such as taste and texture to hone in on.

Connecting with peers, having supportive friends and participating in social activities can help children feel connected and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. While many parents become anxious if their child is rejected by his/her peers, other parents are often sympathetic and willing to help integrate them into a new friend group.

Finding extra-curricular activities they enjoy and participating in school clubs or teams can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose. Researchers have found that the improvement in anxiety and depression from such activities is most profound in boys.

Thus, while it is admirable for our great institutions to focus on long-term strategies and international aid concerns in their messaging, without the funds to back it up, one can’t help but feel the thought is somewhat wasted. Perhaps it is time for simpler, more actionable messaging about mental health that every child can integrate into their lives.

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