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Reflections on school in the pandemic

Saachi Mall
The shift to online education has been particularly difficult for all. Here’s a student’s perspective
Student at Singapore American School
A little girl in front of a tablet

As the number of COVID-19 cases increased, our ability to lead normal lives in Singapore was hit, as it was elsewhere. In April 2020, it was announced that schools would have to make the switch to home-based learning. This step was taken to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

We were delighted to hear this. Along with the rest of my friends, I was looking forward to staying at home and taking a break from the everyday stress of school. That extra bit of sleep in the morning, not having to get ready to leave the house, and not having to travel to school for a few days – these were all exciting propositions!

What I didn’t realise then was that online school wouldn’t just be a two-week holiday. Instead, it would last for months.

And these months spent staying at home and completing classwork from my bedroom were the worst school months I have experienced. I’ll explain why.

Unforeseen challenges

As everyone went back to their homes, school resumed in the form of Zoom calls and lessons over Google Meets. After experiencing the first few weeks of online school, I remember comparing this new education system to in-person school, and thinking that staying at home on my computer was a preferable alternative. In fact, I remember wanting online school to be a permanent solution. There were many reasons why I felt this way about online school, including the opportunity to stay up late, sleep in, and finish classwork from the comfort of my bedroom.

The excitement soon disappeared once home-based learning continued for more than a month. Instead of a break filled with relaxation, many aspects of online learning contributed to increased levels of stress and anxiety across the board. As I started to spend more time learning from home, I began to experience first-hand the detrimental effects of online learning.

Online education has continued to leave its lasting impact and has changed the education system and the way students perceive it.

If it weren’t for online school, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the impact that in-person education has, and how learning together with members of a community greatly enhances the way I learn.

Research from McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Health Care shows that on average, students all over the world were two months behind on their curriculum learning in early November 2020. This strongly suggests that students were not able to enjoy the same kind of education online that they did when attending school in-person, owing to the several negative features of online learning.

When home-based learning changed from a short “vacation” to a comprehensive city-wide lockdown, we were not able to interact with our friends and classmates in person at all. Usually, we get time to spend with our friends and classmates when in school, which continues on into after-school hours. However, this wasn’t possible at all when schools went online. Initially, I would call my friends for hours each day, during and after classes, but phone calls and video calls are still not the same as in-person social interaction, something we began craving for soon enough.

How much students interacted varied depending on each person and their personality types. I know many people found it hard to reach out to their friends, and resume the same level of communication as before, as they were all at home. The lack of socialising can be detrimental to anyone’s mental health, and much research has shown that children are greatly impacted. In my experience, the inability to meet my friends made me feel more isolated and disconnected.

This was something I had not dealt with before, and wasn’t prepared for.

Separately, when school went online, I had to spend more than eight hours a day on my computer. Spending so much time with technology and gadgets can also have many negative implications on one’s wellbeing, mental and otherwise. The overuse of technology and screens results in eye problems, difficulties in focusing on anything and disturbances in sleep.

Besides, online school was solely based on my computer. The much-increased increase in the amount of time spent using devices, resulted in various kinds of technology malfunctions, which only contributed to increased anxiety levels.

Instead of a break filled with relaxation, many aspects of online learning contributed to increased levels of stress and anxiety across the board.

And while all of this was happening, students remained cooped up inside their homes, starved of any physical activities and not permitted to play sports of any kind. We had to come to terms with these sudden changes that impacted our lifestyles completely, and all of us had to deal with these challenges independently. Of course, we had the support of our parents, home-based learning did make us more lonely than earlier.

A large part of going to school is the sense of community that is created. The relationships I have with my classmates are really important to my learning, as they teach me the importance of collaboration and teamwork. It’s impossible to feel a sense of community during online school.

In places in the world where home-based learning is still taking place, I feel that the long-term effects will be even more drastic, and students may, over time, become less appreciative of the importance of community.

The silver lining

But it hasn’t been all bad. Despite the myriad challenges, I think we’ve all learnt a lot with the shift to home-based learning. Working in difficult situations where I haven’t been able to see my friends through a period where I perhaps need to see them the most. There have been times when I haven’t been able to understand schoolwork and come to terms with the curriculum or faced technological glitches, resulting in stress and anxiety.

But I suppose we all found a way to get around all of these challenges. Personally, the past few months have taught me how to stay resilient. If it weren’t for online school, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the impact that in-person education has, and how learning together with members of a community greatly enhances the way I learn. Learning from home has also made me more patient.

I think all of this has prepared me better for the future. Through these hard times during lockdown and online school, many of my friends and I have tried to find ways to make the most of the cards that have been dealt our way. I hope it isn’t something we—or children in the future—have to experience ever again.

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Student at Singapore American School

Saachi Mall is a student at Singapore American School and is entering the 9th grade. She enjoys writing for school as well as outside of school. She is interested in writing about social issues and hopes to write for newspapers in the future and pursue her interest in journalism.

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