Myself and many other students are all too familiar with the new reality of schooling. Waking up at the crack of dawn, dragging yourself to the computer, and presenting yourself to classmates you barely know, bed head and all. Although online learning is becoming the new norm for high school students and college students, experts are saying that there is a noticeable decline in student performance and overall happiness. It is impossible to get the same educational and social results from online learning. In-person schooling offers a complex relationship-oriented style of learning where students can collaborate and express themselves with others in their own unique way. I tend to reminisce on my high school years with my friends as there was so much that it offered. To be completely honest, school and learning wasn’t necessarily what we looked forward to, but it was the glue that brought all of us together and allowed us to share once in a lifetime experiences, inside jokes, riveting conversations at the lunch table and making a fool out of ourselves during classes. These experiences last a lifetime, and I feel bad for the new generation of kids who won’t get the opportunity to create these memories.
For instance, I look at my brother who is in his senior year of high school. For all of last year and most of this year he has had to stay inside and observe his classes from his computer screen, unable to create new friendships with his classmates. Recently he has been able to attend in-class learning but social distancing and the many precautions that need to be taken to ensure an entire school is virus free, greatly diminishes a student’s eagerness to create friendships. He goes to school and comes straight home. His routine has greatly changed, not because he wants it to, but because it had to change. School is not a place to spark up conversations and share memorable moments with peers anymore. It’s purpose has solely become educational.
So what does a student feel when they are cut off from these experiences and interactions? The term mental health is definitely a front runner for what online learning is effecting. Students are experiencing a great amount of social isolation which can lead to anxiety and depression. Students with attention deficits and behavioural disorders are not able to be stimulated in a manageable and consistent manner, causing many to fall behind in their studies. Parents and students are now looking towards schools for better mental health care, seeking counsellors and psychologists for more immediate help. However I do not believe teachers are to be the only ones to take the burden of ensuring students a better environment for learning and mental wellbeing. My mother is a grade 7 teacher at a Vancouver Elementary school and has experienced the hectic and frustrating task of teaching online.
“I can only do so much as the teacher when teaching long distance. I try my best to stay in the loops with my students and check in on their well-being, but these online interactions pale in comparison to meeting my class in person. Online learning doesn’t feel human” – Gaye Dalla-Zanna
On top of these struggles Teachers are also put at risk of catching COVID-19. School procedures on the Vancouver School Board website state that a teacher is to continue teaching from home if they contract the virus. Students who contract the virus are sent home immediately and must continue schooling if able. In a sense we are cycling students and teachers in and out of schools, making it a slow and frustrating process. However there doesn’t seem to be any viable solutions that pose any greater success in the returning of students to class full time. Figures were collected in mid March detailing the number of teachers in BC who have contracted the virus at school.
“The teachers’ union says claims are increasing, suggesting in the last two weeks there was an increase in files by about 15 per cent.” – Alyse Kotyk, Reporter, CTVNewsVancouver.ca
It is clear as day that not only school boards, but parents as well must chip in to help with recovery efforts. Parents are being urged to continue to advocate the importance of wearing a mask during school hours to ensure the safety of fellow classmates and teachers.
While the rules regarding COVID-19 are restricting, myself and others have still tried to make the best of this situation. Communication is still possible through social media and the internet. Even though it may not be the prime choice for most students to interact with others, the youth have made a tremendous effort to keep morale high. My class and I have set up movie nights and game nights to talk and get to know one another. Video calling apps such as discord and zoom have made it possible for distant classmates to find similar interests and grow friendships. My class also decided to make a class group chat. I believe this has been the most beneficial in our studies and socializing. The emotional support I was able to gain from talking to my peers about school work and everything else under the sun was a big reason why I was able to get through the school year. Being able to share joyful moments as well as stressful ones made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
It’s hard to pinpoint when things will start to return to their normal state let alone feel normal. The trouble is that we make progress but all of it is foiled by more waves of COVID-19. The rules and restrictions on lockdown are being lifted slowly but surely, even with the public perception making you think otherwise. This has and will be challenging no doubt, but we have to keep our sense of optimism present in our minds. No matter how much we dislike the rules set upon us, we cannot disregard them for our own selfish affairs. Continue to keep others in mind, ensuring a brighter future ahead.