Centennial uses tech to support learners' mental health

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 16 Sept 2022

Sandton-based Centennial Schools has turned to technology to support the mental health of its learners, adding an app as part of the focus on the emotional intelligence of learners at the school.

The school has introduced the It’sOk app, an emotional intelligence app designed specifically for a school environment.

According to a statement, the school, which already places a key emphasis on technology in its teaching and physical set-up, introduced the app to help pupils establish a better sense of self and emotional awareness.

Shaun Fuchs, CEO and founder of Centennial Schools, says he’s seen first-hand the impact of mental distress on school children. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this often not spoken about issue to the fore.

“In 30 years of education, I have never seen the levels of anxiety and depression in young people as I did coming out of the pandemic,” he comments.

Launched in January, the school is the brainchild of entrepreneur and long-time educationalist Fuchs.

The school aims to prepare its pupils for the digital economy though a range of digital skills that address the deficiencies in South Africa’s current education system.

Furthermore, it has replaced classrooms with larger digital learning hubs, fitted with a computer for each pupil, to create a modern learning environment that seamlessly integrates technology into every aspect of teaching and learning.

Fuchs adds: “With this generation – Gen Z − being the most digitally literate generation on the planet, a wellness app was entirely appropriate. This generation lives on their mobile phones, and using an app is natural to them. The wellness app we use, called It’sOk, enables our students to increase their emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing on a daily basis.

“It also provides teachers and parents with accurate data on how our children are doing. The app gives students a platform for self-expression and emotional education without them having to approach an adult. It is tough for kids to admit their struggles. This app gives them a safe space where it is easy for them to express their feelings, while also giving the school the data it needs to intervene if there are issues.”

Every morning at the start of the school day, learners log on to the app, click on the daily check-in, and describe their range of emotions, both primary and secondary.

It also features an education section where they can see what their emotions mean and why they are feeling that way. The self-awareness feature ranges from the personal, to school reasons, self-harming, social media or family reasons.

There is a range of tools to use – from reaching out to someone at school, having a chat on the platform, breathing exercises, meditation, life skills, gratitude, panic buttons, and an analysis of the data so that the learners can understand themselves.

In addition, based on the usage of the app, parents receive wellbeing reports on their children, allowing them to be proactive in understanding and managing their children’s wellbeing.

“Every teacher at Centennial has access to the app and they can receive messages from students, track emotions per grade per class, find out how and why their students are feeling a particular emotion. All this allows teachers to pick up on things as they are happening.

“Self-harm students are flagged. Key people are notified so that they can reach out to the student.”

For Fuchs and Centennial Schools, the data from the app has proven critical. “We are using scientific data about the mental state of our students to identify trends and to pro-actively manage the mental health of our students. It has changed the landscape; we have quantitative data allowing us to identify patterns and behaviour.

“You cannot put a price on the wellness of our children. We want to be proactive and determine areas of concern early on. As far as possible, we want to avoid any personal tragedies as a result of mental health issues. With the app we can pick up on issues and hopefully intervene. If we can save one student, the app has paid for itself a million times over.”

The app is mobile, tablet, iPad or laptop based.