WE ARE SUFFERING
The quality of online learning is not getting any better.
March 28, 2021
On March 13, 2020, students cheered when the principal on the intercom announced that the Palm Beach School District was closing schools for a week, only a couple of weeks after the first COVID-19 patient entered Florida. Students were overjoyed to have an extra week off of school but some stopped their cheers, thinking their celebration would bite them in the behind later.
“What if we never come back?” A classmate in the back of the classroom said. Some shrugged it off while others created scenarios of them never coming back to campus again.
Almost a year later, most students still have not yet reported back to campus and are continuing online learning. Though a year of online learning in a digitalized society seems adaptable, students admit that the quality of it has not gotten any better.
One big concern for online learning is the inability to establish a serious mindset about school. While moving to another room or moving around furniture to create a workspace may be helpful for some students, a change in surroundings may not do the trick for others.
A common issue neurodivergent individuals face is a lack of focus on tasks even in brick and mortar education, so working online can be difficult. According to Pew Research Center, 14 percent of students in the U.S. are disabled, making up about 7 million students who are not receiving the same quality of education as non-disabled students are. While education transitions into more digital means, disabled students are left to find a more suitable way for them to fulfill their objectives.
Schools around the country have not found their own solution to rectifying the ableist online education system. The only corrective the school can offer is persuading students to come back to campus but that solution cannot apply to everyone, especially when some are at high risk or have an older family member at home. So if coming back to school will not work, then what will?
Students must know that they are not alone in this situation and make an effort to reach out to teachers for accommodations. If the teacher somehow fails to provide help, it may be time to reach out to your counselor. Also, if there is a friend present in class, the student should reach out to them for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of when in need of help. If a student is in the position where a friend asks them for help, they should try their best to give them the assistance they need.
In times like these, students feel hopeless, fatigued, and incompetent. Support systems like teachers, counselors, friends, and parents must emphasize that the inability to adapt to distance learning is not because they are incompetent and that so many more have similar struggles.
Although, this positive affirmation only touches the surface of deteriorating mental health in an online learning setting.
While it was momentarily exciting to have an extra three weeks of summer, it also meant a three-week delay of school. This meant an increased workload for the rest of the year since International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) exam dates remained nearly the same. Adapting to an online education while having more work than ever has made many students feel suffocated and stressed.
“With teachers continuing to pile work, it’s been so much more stressful than it should’ve been to the point where I think my mental health has been affected negatively,” senior Mahia Ahmed said.
Moreover, there is no change in environment to relieve that feeling of confinement and isolation from the workload that the line between school life and private life blurs into oblivion.
“It’s difficult to separate your academic life with your personal life since everything happens in one place,” Ahmed continued.
The Palm Beach School District acknowledges this issue by providing mandatory mental health training for all students. Though members of the district may have attempted to create a program for students to understand that they are not alone, making it mandatory has made the attempt more performative than helpful.
An actually helpful solution to students’ deteriorating mental health is to make tests and exams optional and offer alternatives to show understanding of a topic of their choosing. Most of the stress of distance learning comes from students feeling like they cannot pass their classes and exams. Stakes are especially high for IB students, for many whose financial standings for college ride on this IB diploma.
The district’s laggard decision-making on whether IB students will be taking exams or not has made students anxious. The district did not make an effort to notify teachers, parents, and students regularly with updates, brewing up more uncertainty and anxiety among all parties. They announced their decision for the non-examination route to everyone suddenly and at the same time, giving teachers little to no time to revise their lesson plans. The curriculum in higher-level classes for IB juniors does not change since they may take exams next year, but IB seniors, who will not be doing exams for any of the courses they are taking this school year, are still getting bombarded with lots of work.
“We’re taking the same amount of notes and have the same assignments even though the district announced that we weren’t taking IB exams,” senior Alexa Pamatat said. “I thought this decision would give me some time to breathe but somehow there’s still more work coming in.”
Even though exams are cancelled, IB seniors still have to suffer the typical heavy workload that the IB program entails since teachers have not been able to change up their curriculum at such short notice. Most IB teachers speculated that the district would still hold IB exams so the unexpected decision has troubled them with rewriting their entire schedule for the second semester.
Nevertheless, students and teachers respect the district for listening to their concerns, as administering IB exams would be unfair for IB students in Palm Beach County, who lost about three weeks of preparation for exams and many seniors are the first to experience their second year of IB entirely online, which has its hiccups.
Hiccups in online learning not only hurt mental health but also severely harm students’ physical health. Sitting at a computer five days a week for eight hours is not a healthy habit and can lead to eye strain and migraines. (I have had eye strain for a month now and symptoms I have shown are red, irritated and teary eyes as well as chronic headaches.) Eye strain can make it difficult for people to stay awake and feel refreshed. As a remedy, teachers should allow students to leave the computer for at most 20 minutes every class to relax their eyes.
Other physical effects of online learning include muscle pain and bad posture. Students should try to practice good posture and get a comfortable chair.
While the future of education is unknown and the effects of COVID-19 remain nearly the same, the school must take extra measures and find better solutions to assist students in a new era of learning. Even after the pandemic dies down, families may voluntarily choose to take the digital route of education, so school districts must improve their methods of managing online education and prioritize the health of students.