Dr. Maria Valyavicharska: Online learning makes students more timid, but also more independent

Educating children in a healthy lifestyle and good interpersonal relationships is the main focus of the project of the Association "Alphabets" WellBeCome, developed jointly with leading specialists in pedagogy from Sofia University.

The most non-traditional school year for young students has ended. The new reality and the distance school have put children and their parents to great challenges. The children felt overwhelmed by the new responsibilities and prohibitions - to study alone, to be deprived of communication with their peers, not to be able to go out and play freely.


Parents, on the other hand, had serious difficulties in dealing with the study material and online learning. How all this affects teachers, parents and children, we talked to Maria Valyavicharska, PhD in special pedagogy from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski ”.

The Doctor of Special Pedagogy Maria Valyavicharska teaches at the Faculty of Science, Education and Arts, Department of Special Pedagogy and Speech Therapy. The object of research and her doctoral dissertation is "Perception and building relationships between children with special educational needs and their classmates without disabilities in the general education environment."

She has worked with children with special needs - hearing impairments, multiple disabilities, mental retardation and autism, as well as inclusive education activities as a resource teacher.

Ms. Valyavicharska, what is changing in children in the conditions of social isolation?

My competencies and observations in interpersonal relationships and socialization are related to children from preschool to junior high school. The emotional stability, mental development of children are largely related to their social contacts and family and friends. Therefore, social exclusion, especially coercive, as in the case of the COVID-19 state of emergency, is confusing and stressful for all of them.

At the beginning of the quarantine, the children were rather satisfied with the idea that they would be at home and their social commitments such as sports, courses, school would remain in the background. They were excited by all the learning platforms and options offered by the schools, and also felt a sense of comfort and tranquility as they did everything at home. That is, at the beginning of the period, they saw this as a kind of vacation.

You say, "in the beginning." What happened later?

The real consequences came after that. Complete isolation, families' fear of infection, the inability to go out and play outside, the inability to invite a friend home to play, the strictness of school commitments, even from home, proved disastrous for children.

I was very impressed that many of them began to loudly express their lack of contact with their teacher. Frequent mood swings have also become a common occurrence. Of course, as is usually the case with children and adolescents, many of them gave up their tablets, phones and computers because e-learning fed them.

Is it possible to somehow avoid the negatives of the absence of normal relationships between children?

Negatives cannot be avoided. The only thing that can be done is to alleviate the situation with the help of the family. Include more games in which everyone participates, children can be heard on the phone with their friends or see each other on Viber, Skype.

What are the advantages of distance learning and what will it change in children and parents?

The advantages of distance learning, in my opinion, are much less than the disadvantages, and this applies in full force not only to children and parents, but also to teachers. As a plus I could point out the opportunity for children to organize themselves to cope. The involvement of the parents and the lack of constant supervision by the teacher create a condition for this.

The fact that the parent inevitably became part of the child's educational process can also be pointed out as a positive. And this gave a new look and a new assessment on his part for the work of the teacher and for his strong workload at school. I hear a lot of parents say, "I have such a hard time dealing with one, and I have no idea how his / her teacher is doing at a school with 25-30 children." Two other facts are also positive: the children started to use their electronic devices for their intended purpose and learned to use a very large part of the educational platforms.

And the negatives?

They are no secret to anyone - lack of social contact for children, crushing monotonous daily life, lack of physical activity, excessive workload. Learning from home takes much more time for the materials to be organized by the teachers, as well as for the students to deal with. Their parents are also doubly burdened, who, in addition to working at home and fulfilling their household duties, have to actively engage in often inaccessible teaching materials (in cases of learning a foreign language they do not know, for example).

Do you think children will start to value their friends more at school, will they become more empathetic after the long forced separation?

Empathy is built from an early age and is the work of both the family and the work of teachers at school and in kindergarten. I do not think that children will be more empathetic and understanding when they return to their normal daily lives. Rather, they will accept the freedom to which they were accustomed until recently, not as a given, but as something valuable that can easily be taken away from you.

On the other hand, I am convinced that parents and teachers will certainly be much more understanding of each other, and this war parent-education system will be, if not terminated, then definitely softened. The state of emergency in Bulgaria has put parents and teachers in a situation with absolutely equal duties and responsibilities in the name of the child's well-being. Both sides were placed in a new situation that required a swift and timely response.

For the teachers, this was the challenge to deal more and more effectively with e-learning and to offer their material in an interesting and different way every day. For parents, this was a timely reminder of the indisputable fact that each of us is responsible and part of the education system, which we seem to have forgotten. In this war, which was fought until recently and which I mentioned above, parents often considered their children's teachers to be incompetent and unable to cope, that there was always more to be done to make their child feel good. school.

As a parent, I believe that we have been given the opportunity to show whether we can handle this task at home and to change our view of the teacher's activities at school.

There is a lot of comment in our country and around the world that this ordeal will seriously change us. What is the most important thing to change in the Bulgarian educational system?

What I and my colleagues from the pedagogical faculties at Sofia University insist on is to pay more attention to the upbringing of children at school, and not only to education. Together with my colleagues we developed such a project called WellBeCome. It is part of the Interreg-IPA Bulgaria-Serbia Cross-Border Cooperation Program 2014-2020. It is carried out by the non-governmental organization "Alphabet Association" and has been developed jointly with leading specialists from Sofia University.

Partners in the WellBeCome program are Ivan Vazov School in the village of Aldomirovtsi, Slivnitsa Municipality, Bulgaria and Hristo Botev School in Dimitrovgrad, Serbia. The aim of the training was to train 20 people (10 from Bulgaria and Serbia) on how to teach the concept of "WellBeCome" to students and other trainers.

What changes do you envisage in school according to this project?

The focus of the training was to create the appropriate knowledge, skills and critical thinking tools needed to teach children and young people how to live a life of well-being that combines a healthy body and mind, creating the necessary eating culture and harmonious perception of the world.

We found that the same problems are observed on both sides of the border: lack of culture in young people how to live a healthy, active and valuable life; lack of educational programs for the development of habits and skills to live a healthy, active and happy life; underdeveloped infrastructure for practicing extracurricular welfare initiatives; insufficient extracurricular initiatives engaging young people to live active lives.

Recognizing this alarming situation, we joined forces and began working together to provide a "remedy" for the aforementioned "youth disease". Shortly before the start of the state of emergency, we gathered teachers from Bulgaria and Serbia for a four-day training. This time the course was in Sofia. Due to the quarantine we are on a forced break, but we hope to continue with the classes in Dimitrovgrad, Serbia in the near future.

You have been a resource teacher, you have direct observations from working with children. What needs to change in interpersonal relationships at school?

Part of my dissertation was about interpersonal relationships between children with special needs and everyone else. In practice, it turns out that the teacher is the only driving force in building these relationships in the classroom. Whether we are talking about a child at risk, from a minority group or with special educational needs. In my research, I entered 42 classes and it turned out that children who are from classes of understanding, empathetic and broad-minded teachers are usually empathetic, broad-minded and understanding students. They are the same for children with special needs and for their classmates in other situations.

It is much more impressive which of their classmates are divorced parents, raised by grandparents, overweight children. Interpersonal relationships presuppose communication, friendship, intimacy. Not everyone in the class is necessarily a friend, but absolutely all of us need cultural and normal relationships in the work environment.

In our country, it seems that children and parents most often show intolerance and rejection of gypsies. How can this be overcome?

I had a case with a child that everyone else in the class shunned and didn't want to sit next to. The problem was that the boy was immortal, rarely bathed, and what actually repelled the children was the unpleasant smell he felt from entering the room.

How can this be overcome? Can't you force a child to communicate with someone they don't like?

There is a way. I called the child for a private conversation and explained in plain text why others do not want to communicate with him. And there was a result. He began to bathe more often and to dress more cleanly, because he realized that this was the way others would accept him.

Do such problems seem to exist in all educational levels?

Yes, the issue of interpersonal relationships in school and society is equally relevant for all stages of schooling. The modern way of life, the changes in the fashion for communication, which cover mainly the online space, as well as the time for communication between a child and a parent are decisive for the type of relationships that children and young people build.

In this situation there is a place for the teacher, who through his professionalism, behavior and example, as well as through clearly purposeful activity, can have a positive impact and create very good practices for building positive interpersonal relationships and build acceptable personalities for the future. a social community in which they will participate anyway.

You mentioned that you insist that more attention be paid to upbringing. What needs to change for all children to learn in a friendly environment?

Educators and parents must work towards educating children in tolerance for the different. Almost every school has children from different religious communities, from risk groups, from minorities. The entry of different gender ideologies is a fine, precise and very personal issue, but unfortunately educators have to talk about it with children. There are already children with special educational needs in almost every class. After the adoption of the Ordinance for inclusive education in our country, children with special educational needs are now part of the general education system.

Since they are among us, it is very important that both at school and at home, children are brought up to accept people as they are. We cannot drive out the different, but rather change ourselves and the system to the situation thus offered. It is also very important that children be held accountable for their rights and obligations and that they be introduced into the ideology of equality and difference between people.

Welcome to WellBeCome!

The project is funded by the European Union through the Cross-border Cooperation Program Interreg-IPA Bulgaria-Serbia 2014 - 2020.

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