Research has well established that the physical environment that a child lives and studies in profoundly impacts the way he/she develops.The curious minds of youngsterare adept in studying the noise of an airplane flying overhead, the hawking of street vendors throughout the day, the plastic wrapper that a passer-by carelessly tosses on the pavement or the unkempt weedsbehind themetal fence of a public park.In a broader sense, the quality of infrastructure that children are exposed to impacts their mental and physical well-being. One can easily witness how irritable or withdrawn a child feels after being exposed to loud noise or suffocating crowds.
While lockdowns are vital to preserve human life, they inevitablyprevent children from enjoying public spaces such as green parks and recreational centres. This does not need to limit the holistic development of children – ourshared experience during the COVID-19 pandemic proves that teaching and learning can adapt well to(and perhaps even improve with) digital technology.
Furthermore, lockdowns do not necessarily mean that children must be completely separated from their interaction with physical environments. Children are keenly aware of the flaws in their locality– not only neglected buildings, but poor sewage treatment, unsafe streets and unbearable air pollution. They are also capable of providing innovative solutions to improve the quality of life in their city, town or locale.
UNICEF encourages the active participation of children in building a “Child Friendly City”: i.e. any community where children feel part of a safe, secure, non-discriminatory and sustainablecommunity that prioritizes giving children a good start at life.Countries that participate in the Child Friendly City initiative assess whether their local laws and policies include the well-being and active participation of children from all backgrounds.
To counter the genuine concern that children may be negatively impacted by being confined indoors due to extended lockdowns or illness, parents and schools must take every opportunity to engage children with the outdoors even when they are indoors. Through various co-curricular projects and activities, students may develop an appreciation of their physical environment as well as their role in building a better community and a better world. For instance, our poster-making exercise on “My Ideal City” seeks tointroduce our students to social issues through creative self-expression.By identifying problems such as poor public health, social discrimination or environmental pollution, a student may productively engage with difficult topics. We strive to prevent children from learning helplessness in closed environments regardless of their circumstances, and instead step outside to a safer environment as proactive and knowledgeable citizens at an early age.