Scholas and COVID-19: The educational intuition revealed by the pandemic

According to data obtained by investigating more than 2,600 young people from 137 cities around the world, in more than 30 virtual meetings carried out by Scholas, it has been evidenced that they reported high values in negative emotions such as the feeling of loneliness, nervousness, and sadness.

Wezum, the Scholas Youth Observatory, produced interesting findings in times of pandemic, measuring the impact on the emotional health of adolescents, and which raised the alarm of international organizations and specialists in the field of health.

With more than 69% of the world student population affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and after the widespread implementation of quarantines, the physical and mental health of young people has been seriously altered, and so educational and youth-oriented organizations and associations are ready to take action.

According to a study by the Complutense University of Madrid, in Spain, young people between 18 and 24 years old are the age group affected by the most symptoms related to anxiety (34.6%) and depression (42.9%) during lockdown; another investigation on mental health indicators carried out by a group of scientists from the School of Psychology of the University of Business and Social Sciences of San Francisco, Argentina, also found that young people (18 to 39 years old) are experiencing greater anxiety, depression, and stress than older adults.

In this sense, Scholas, an international organization of pontifical law that integrates a network of half a million institutions and educational networks from 190 countries, did not hesitate to answer the call of young people to continue their experiences, and in record time managed the World Cyber Meeting of Youth for the Coronavirus, which has become a permanent global space in which thousands of young people from all over the world are being summoned week by week; in addition, more national and international editions have been held, and several of them -dedicated to researchers, teachers and parents- have continued to be held.

Sadness decreased 69% among young participants

In this framework, a study was carried out on the assessment of the state of mind of the students themselves, both before and after each weekly meeting; said research was carried out by the Scientific Committee of the Wezum Observatory, and has already aroused the interest of the academic and scientific environment. Led by researcher Ana Victoria Poenitz, PhD in Psychology with Orientation in Applied Cognitive Neurosciences, this is an «exploratory and descriptive, longitudinal study», she explains.

It was based on a report with higher values than the expected average in intensity of negative emotions such as the feeling of loneliness, nervousness, and sadness. The results reflected a decrease of 44.60% in the feeling of loneliness, 46.07% in that of restlessness, nervousness or uneasiness, and 69.09% in the intensity of sadness.» Likewise, an increase of 43.04% in the self-perception of the intensity of hope was assessed, of 53.35% in a prosocial attitude, that is, the desire to do things for others, and of 68.46% in the feeling of joy.

As David Bueno, PhD in Biology and Professor of Genetics at the University of Barcelona, points out: “The fact of having regular meetings is one of the many ways to maintain routine, it helps the plastic capacity of the brain not to decrease too much during this time, and the organizational capacity to be kept as optimal as possible.”

Graph 1: Statistical averages of the decrease in the intensity of basic and secondary emotions in the group of participants, pre and post meetings. (Adaptation of the Scale for Mood Assessment, Sanz 2001). Source: Scholas Occurrentes Foundation, 2020.


Graph 2: Statistical averages of the increase in the intensity of basic and secondary emotions in the group of participants, pre and post meetings. (Adaptation of the Scale for Mood Assessment, Sanz 2001). Source: Scholas Occurrentes Foundation, 2020.


«The data is relevant», says Poenitz, «taking into account the global consensus that exists regarding the impact of positive valence emotions on the organism, as well as the decrease of negative valence emotions for the avoidance of harmful factors of stress on the neuroendocrine system.”

«Learning the capacities to experience positive emotions, from meeting and exchanging with other young people, works as a necessary resource for the development of the resilient process in this particular period of global crisis», continues the researcher. “Social isolation can be a risk factor for morbidity-related mortality. The negative consequences of isolation for health are particularly strong in the most vulnerable sectors, fundamentally, in children and young people», he concludes.

Quality education is health

Along these same lines, David Bueno also notes that: “Young people need, imperatively, a social life with their peers; in adolescence and youth one of the functions of the brain is to find each one’s place within their environment, and that includes their peers, other young people, because it will be with them that they will build society.”

Bueno, who is also a recognized expert in neuroscience, highlights: “Positive emotions are related to a series of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Both activate neural networks and hormones within the brain -but they circulate throughout the body- that generate responses from the immune system; these positive emotions, while not healing, have been shown to allow the immune system to be more active, making it somewhat more difficult for us to become ill. And if we are already ill, they allow the recovery to be even faster.” For this reason, the Scholas pedagogical team verified that educating in the culture of encounter, which Pope Francis has proposed since 2001, generates internal harmony and health.

The impact of beliefs on youth health

In addition to the above, four relevant factors for the conformation of a resilient personality structure were analyzed, according to the scientific literature. Young people self-reported an improvement of 18.52% in their self-esteem, 20.76% in their optimism about the future, 37.68% in the possibility of talking about their own emotions, and 8.52% in security in their own beliefs” (statistical means of the local cyber meetings in countries such as Spain, Italy, Mexico, Colombia and the Scholas World Virtual Meeting of Youth and ORT). There was also an increase of 44.6% in self-perception of reflective and introspective capacity», another of the relevant personality factors in front of resilience.

Are new technologies good or bad? A false paradox

«In pre-quarantine, one always tried to promote direct contact between people without technology and screens in between», explains Claudio Waisburg, Neurologist and Director of the SOMA Neuropediatric Institute in Argentina, who has been critical of the harmful effects of misuse of social networks for children and adolescents: «From birth, you need to be with other people, face-to-face and in the present», he says… Adults, children and adolescents have to re-arm ourselves, think about how to transform fear into action. All that technology provides us today is the help for us to stay in touch with what our brains need to be well and to promote positive emotions.” This is why this researcher applauds the initiative by Scholas of using technology to continue promoting the education of encounter.

«Promote social cognition in times of social distancing. I think it is the biggest global challenge we have now», says Waisburg, «These meetings expose positive emotions in the kids; that feeling that there are many in different situations, but that they go through the same thing, and that it is possible to lean on that, it seems to me that it only contributes to something positive and to the well-being”, he concludes.

In each new edition of the youth cyber meetings, issues that have to do with the current situation are raised, such as the role of education, time management, the perspective used to face this new reality, leisure, among others… However, José María del Corral, world director of Scholas, says that “other things have begun to emerge.”

«Teaching in the fragility of meeting with other people, with other things, and therefore with oneself, with everything that -by being different- gives us the capacity for wonder», has been one of Scholas’ intuitions regarding the value of emotions in educational processes, a view that today, in times of a pandemic that has exposed the fragility of many of the systems that were believed to be safe, is more than necessary.

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