We’re approaching November and the leaves have shifted from green to yellow and red. Students all over the world flip their laptops open, prepared for another online learning class, all wearing their pyjamas. This is the new reality we’re living in and there is essentially no indication of when we will be able to fully go back to the old way of teaching. Until then, we can at least thank the tools of the modern age which have enabled us to continue our education despite the situation.
My experience of online learning
I have really come to appreciate the flexibility of online learning. The ability to watch pre-recorded lectures whenever it fits my schedule and scroll back in the videos whenever a concept needs to be explained again. In the beginning of the pandemic, I moved back home to Sweden and I have stayed here since. I got a job at a café, became good friends with my colleagues and found myself very happy in a new relationship. When the new term began in October, I didn’t feel ready to leave the place I had made my home and as the situation in England remained uncertain. I decided to stay in Sweden and see how the situation would progress. As expected, the pandemic continues to impact on day to day life. Thanks to online learning tools, I was able to continue my education whilst staying in my home country with both lectures and classes remaining online. I believe my university (Essex) has in many ways adapted efficiently to the different teaching conditions and the lecturers must be credited for this. Last year, we had both a professor who held the lectures and a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) who held the classes. This year, the lecturer is responsible for both pre-recorded lectures and a seminar once a week.
Coping with online learning
My situation, however, should not be interpreted as everyone’s experience of online learning. I have been fortunate to live in a country without lockdowns and modest restrictions. The numbers of deaths are staggering here as well but the government still allows its citizens to move freely in the city, asking for caution when riding public transportation and limit social interaction as much as possible. I cannot say which approach will be the best and perhaps Sweden will have to deal with severe consequences from these loose regulations in the end, but as far as the wellbeing of the economy and public mental health go, I am happy to have stayed here amidst the pandemic. Research from the University of Glasgow shows a significant increase in suicidal thoughts among young adults:
’Prof O’Connor said: “While public health measures, such as lockdown, have been necessary to protect the general population, we know the effects of COVID-19 on the population’s mental health and wellbeing are likely to be profound and long-lasting. The findings from our study, showing in particular the increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults, is concerning, and show that we must be vigilant to this at-risk group.’
I believe that the lockdowns in England have been necessary to stop the spread and limit the number of deaths in the country. However, the mental health of its citizens should not be ignored and might quite frankly lead to future inimaginable consequences for the young labour force. Anxiety from isolation and the lack of hope for the future amidst an economic recession and social detachment, might lead to even larger economic division in the country. Speculating in future consequences of this pandemic is surely intriguing and should be discussed. However, what we must prioritise at this point in time is how we manage the situation we are in at the very moment.
Looking to the future
In my role as president of the Public Speaking society on campus, I am happy that we can provide Zoom sessions to our members in these difficult times. Many first year students are struggling as they find it difficult to find connections at the university whilst undertaking online learning. Our weekly sessions give them a chance to interact with one another and hopefully retrieve some more student contact. Especially for the students studying from their home countries, this becomes an essential part. The perks of online learning is a fact but we cannot ignore the widespread decline in mental health among students. Media reports are that a vaccination programme is just around the corner and this will hopefully revert teaching methods back to normal.