The importance of community connections

Karen Dolva

Karen Dolva, cofounder and CEO of No Isolation, was born in Norway. She studied Computer Science and Interaction Design at the University of Oslo, a leading institution in the field of education and research. Karen was began to research how technology could be used to support children with debilitating illnesses in the summer of 2015, after meeting Anne Fi Troye, a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to cancer in 2005.

Follow @kdolva


Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Pixabay // ambermb. Image credit: Pixabay // ambermb.

Loneliness is an increasingly detrimental issue that strikes the most vulnerable groups in society the hardest, with children and seniors being especially susceptible. Yet, it spares no one. 45% of British people report sometimes feeling lonely, and as many as 18% feel lonely all the time. Loneliness is not only an issue of scale; it has also been labelled as being worse for us than obesity and physical inactivity, having negative effects on both mental and physical health. So what do school communities need to know to help tackle this issue?

In 2018, the UK set a bold precedent by becoming the first country to appoint a minister for loneliness and followed this by announcing shortly after that it wants to become the leading country in the world for dementia care and research. This shows that progress is being made, and that people are starting to understand the extent of the problem. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of solving the issue of loneliness and social isolation.

Loneliness is often associated with feeling like a social failure. The taboo of loneliness is passed down through generations, and can be extremely problematic, “The more self-conscious we are, the harder it is to seek help.”something about which those affected can become very self-conscious or shy. The more self-conscious we are, the harder it is to seek help. The longer it takes to get help, the more lonely someone gets. The more lonely someone is, the more self-conscious they become. This creates a cycle of isolation that feeds itself, and if we are to end social isolation and loneliness, through the school community and beyond, then this is a pattern that desperately needs to be broken.

As young children, most of the social contact experienced comes from within the family. However, as we grow up, we experience a shift, where more attention is given to peers in and out of school. This shift makes us more vulnerable to feeling lonely, and is especially common in children moving from Primary to Secondary school. These pupils experience changes in their environment, their responsibilities and their peers. Dr Gerine Lodder, an expert in social development from the University of Groningen, stated that “80% of parents underestimate or overestimate the level of loneliness of their child”. Loneliness in children is important to combat, as the effects it can have on later life are severe and often psychologically and socially damaging.

Children diagnosed with a long-term illness are particularly vulnerable, as they often miss a lot of school, and therefore miss out on many social interactions. Lacking this contact during early years of development can be devastating, and can lead children to become anxious, isolated, and lonely. In Europe alone, more than 500,000 children between the age of 6 and 19 with long-term illness are unable to attend school for extended periods of time. In the UK, this number is over 70,000. The research is crystal clear: School absence resulting from illness and disconnection from peers due to illness has a profound negative effect on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing. The absence is correlated with grade retention, achievement gaps, and dropout rates.

An article from the Australian Journal of Education by Liza Hopkins and her peers stated that “reducing the risk of disengagement during periods of absence” is “critical in avoiding premature school leaving and educational underachievements for these students.” For children, school is the primary social arena, and therefore missing out on these daily interactions breaks the norm for developing children. Additionally, school is a normalised area of social contact, and as children attend with the same peers daily, time passes quickly. This means that even missing two weeks of school can feel like a very long time, and keeping up with what is happening at school while absent for months is very difficult. The social and educational gap this creates makes it even harder for the affected children to reintegrate to their daily routines when they come back.

Hopkins et al further stated that “keeping students with health conditions connected to school and learning is critical to avoid a trajectory of school absence, disengagement from schoolwork and peers, reduced achievement in education and early school leaving.”

Missing lessons and the contact required to acquire learning skills can significantly affect a child’s overall education. Having the support through technology, school, “Missing two weeks of school can feel like a very long time.”and parents at home, can make a huge difference in allowing children bound to their house to participate and learn. Recognising the importance of this support system means part of the process for improving the issue is complete. We cannot completely abolish loneliness without first realising why it is such an issue, acknowledging the effect it has, and by doing so, remove the stigma of loneliness and social isolation.

Practical steps to help alleviate loneliness within this group can be subjective, however there are three very important stigmas that need to be broken for progress to be made.

1. We need to be able to recognise and acknowledge loneliness, and differentiate it from social isolation. We need to define what loneliness is and why it is such an issue.

2. We need to break the taboo around loneliness by talking about it more, and normalise it in the classroom. Then it will be easier to accept for ourselves and others around, and thus a dialogue can be started.

3. We need to learn to ask for help. Sometimes these emotions need to talked through with friends, family or a professional, and this should be encouraged throughout the school.

If we learn that feeling lonely is normal, and is socially acceptable, then we are likely to take giant steps forwards in stopping it.

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"