Past Events

Growing up amidst the Pandemic: The Repercussions of Covid-19 on Children’s Development

Date: 29 October 2021, Friday
Time: 8.15pm – 9.45pm
Venue: LIVE on Facebook (@Penanginstitute) & Youtube (Penang Institute)

About the Talk

In efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, widespread lockdowns have been implemented, among which schools have been shut down for periodically long periods since March 2020. With childcare programmes, kindergartens and schools closed and social distancing measures in place, the children’s developmental pathways have been undoubtedly affected with the lack of physical learning and social interaction. This webinar will strive to discuss the short term effects and long term implications of the pandemic on children’s development, and how can some of these developmental challenges be addressed.

About the Speakers

Dato’ Dr Lai Fong Hwa, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Island Hospital and Pantai Hospital

He graduated in medicine (1987) and psychiatry (1994) from University of Malaya. He subsequently pursued sub-speciality training in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy at Oxford, United Kingdom. In 2018, he completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Multi-Generational Family Therapy from the Academy of Family Therapy in Rome. Dato’ Dr Lai was practising psychiatry in Penang General Hospital from 1994 until his retirement in 2019 and he now consults at Island Hospital and Pantai Hospital. He also focuses on developing a multi-disciplinary approach to child & adolescent psychiatry by setting up services through smart partnerships with NGOs. Dato’ Dr Lai acts as the Vice President of the Penang Mental Health Association, and is also a founding member of the National Malaysian Child Trauma Psychosocial Response Team. He presently teaches a Certificate and Diploma in Family Therapy programme in Kuala Lumpur, in addition to conducting training in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Datin Indranee Liew, UK Curriculum & IGCSE Consultant and Mental Health Advocate

She has 31 years’ experience teaching in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Oxford from early years to tertiary level. With a first degree in law, Indranee chose teaching as a career and pursued further qualifications in education, English language teaching and special education. With a postgraduate qualification in education from University of Leicester, Indranee holds Qualified Teacher Status in the UK. A HRDF Certified trainer, Indranee’s experience teaching in England developed into a passion for training teachers in positive teaching strategies and classroom behaviour management. She also works closely with children and adolescents in school settings on developing learning skills and emotional regulation.

Chan Xin Ying, Programme Manager, Family and Children’s Affair, Penang Women’s Development Corporation

She is the programme manager of the PWDC Family and Children’s Affair Department, and one of the main drafters of the Penang State Gender Inclusiveness Policy. Prior to that, she was a research analyst in Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Senior Programme Assistant in the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. Currently, Xin Ying and her team is assisting the state to implement the Penang State’s Childcare Policy 2013 and Safe Family Policy 2020.

Moderator: Yeong Pey Jung, Socioeconomics & Statistics Programme, Penang Institute


Key takeaways from the Webinar

Challenges in academic development of children:

  • The starts and stops and the overall vague SOPs in the reopening of kindergartens and schools has had negative impact on children’s academic development, especially for the younger children where early childhood education and primary education are considered to be the foundation of intellectual development.
  • We are in uncharted waters as this is a situation has never been faced before. There is a need to be patient with children once they return to physical schooling sessions. The demands on them to complete homework and understanding lessons needs to be more measured.
  • The ability of the children to learn through online-learning is largely dependent on the educator – the ineffectiveness of the educator will pose challenges.
  • Parents have been playing 80% of the teacher’s role in home-based learning, particularly for off-site learning, which has been a challenge especially for working, B40 families.
  • Online learning poses challenges to B40 children because of financial constraints in terms of devices and internet quota.
  • The learning gaps between B40 and the other groups have been exacerbated by the lockdown and the pandemic.
  • Parents and teachers need to be more openly communicative on the academic learning of the children.
  • The needs of the children should come before the school syllabus.

Challenges in the social-cognitive development of the children

  • The pandemic has caused problems in physical development of young children – with the lockdown, children had been unable to run and play, and this may cause problems in terms of physical movement and strength.
  • Attention needs to be given to the motor and coordination skills of young children, which are also largely affected.
  • The foundation of cognitive skills in comprehension, speech, language and calculation are also affected, and there is a need to test these skills of children upon returning to school, to enable them to progress more smoothly to the next level of learning.
  • Children learn social skills and social norms through play-education, the reduced social interaction caused by the pandemic will cause regression in social skills, as there has been instances where children forgot how behave, i.e. how to share.
  • This is a critical problem because this is the time where children form understanding about the norms of the society and learn how to behave in socially acceptable ways.
  • There is a risk of older children avoiding face-to-face interaction after prolonged online interaction, hence causing a regression in the development of social skills.

Challenges in mental-emotional development of children:

  • The pandemic and the lockdowns has caused the decline of mental health for significant proportions of the population including the children. The mental stresses of the parents are often translated across to the children.
  • There has been increased instances of children seeking the help of psychiatrists and psychologists.
  • Exercise and the ability to run and play is important for the mental well-being of children, and the pandemic/lockdown has clearly increased the feelings of anxiety among children and adolescents. The return to school with help with their mental wellbeing.
  • Closed quarters during the lockdown may have affected communication between children and parents, and have added on to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression for both parent and child. In some cases, the parents themselves are too stressed and indirectly neglected the needs of the child.
  • Family burn-out runs into the danger of escalating into domestic violence. The increase of domestic violence cases during the pandemic is detrimental towards the mental health of the children.
  • Families and children in lower income groups need to be aware that mental health assistance is available at all Klink Kesihatan on Penang, under the care of a Family Medicine Specialist, who is trained in psychiatry and handling psychological problems.
  • The stigma of mental health needs to be overcome in encouraging the children to talk about their negative/depressed feelings, but Covid-19 has actually improved this situation.

Moving forward

  • The school syllabus needs to be reviewed and tone back to the basics for younger children, in terms of writing, calculation, phonics and basic reading comprehension. The learning needs to be less linear.
  • Uncertainty and loss of interest in learning is a primary issue that needs to be addressed by policy makers.
  • Parents and teachers should be made aware of and trained in supporting the children’s emotional health development.
  • Introduce role-playing in the development of social skills for young children as they move back into the setting of physical learning.
  • Collaborative and community efforts to teach B40 children/children who are behind in social/literacy skills.
  • Parents and teachers need to be taught on how to explain Covid-19 to the children, to help them understand the new normal and behavioural changes of the people around them, to help alleviate their mental stress.
  • Non-violent communication patterns and behavior has to be prioritised for families.
  • Government policies are important because the policies can be institutionalised. At the same time, consultation with teachers, parents and the civil society is equally important in policy-making.


Penang Health Alliance – provides mental health support, basic health necessities, food aid and employment help.

PHQ-9 Questionnaire – a self-assessment instrument for monitoring and measuring the symptoms of depression.