When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out at the turn of 2019-2020, few people could envision the drastic changes it would bring worldwide. Students at different educational institutions seem to have been particularly affected. In what ways did the pandemic influence education, and how did students and staff manage to cope with the challenge?
Tearing Lives Apart
When the pandemic broke out, different institutions moved their operations out of office. Such a solution was inevitable and proved to be the right one. Yet, it had the most dramatic consequences in the educational sector.
Students had to handle a variety of educational tasks by themselves, from “how I write my paper” to “how I configure my speakers’ settings.” They had to pass tests and exams distantly, and the process depended on technical aspects.
Below we discuss what issues students had to deal with and how they coped with them. We also evaluate whether they received adequate help from their institutions and governments.
The necessity to self-isolate proved rather difficult to most people during the pandemic. Students were not an exception. They could have no social life, no face-to-face tuition, and no chance to informally discuss their assignment with peers and tutors.
Most learners admitted it was this very aspect of the pandemic that especially worsened their well-being. Whereas before they could stay up late with their friends, the drastic measures in some countries forced them to remain inside for days on end. It’s not surprising that the situation complicated the psychological state of some individuals.
Of course, we cannot underestimate the opportunities of distance learning. Despite that, traditional institutions were not prepared to move online. In this sphere, several problems manifested themselves and caused particular concern and frustration.
The pandemic demonstrated that not all students and staff were prepared to handle various technical issues. Research has shown that students in the USA and the EU were best equipped to deal with distance learning.
On the other hand, those in less developed countries had trouble keeping up. Not being able to properly research for their coursework (especially if students were based overseas) and submit their assignments on time contributed to students’ frustration.
Meanwhile, tutors also struggled to deliver high-quality lectures and seminars and provide proper feedback to their students. This was due to either bad connectivity or inefficient computer resources the teachers had at home.
Another problem had to do with using special resources to stream lectures and seminars. The technical staff was spreading themselves thin, trying to assist the academic staff in their migration to the online mode. This again influenced students in a bad way, as they often reported feeling bored and losing time, having to wait for their tutor to come online.
The analysts agree that some institutions still have a long way to go to deliver good quality teaching online. They also should improve their ability to solve technical problems.
During the pandemic, students’ academic performance dropped. We can cite several reasons for this:
- multiple distractions at home;
- inability to conduct proper archival or laboratory research;
- lack of technical equipment and software to meet the coursework requirements;
- lack of self-study skills;
- lack of motivation;
- lack of information from the government about the pandemic;
- overall pessimistic outlook.
Indeed, in Europe, Asia, and Africa, students were often frustrated by the technical aspects of distance education. At the same time, in the US, learners were appalled by what they perceived as ineffective government’s handling of the situation. Learning about the rising death toll from the news, not to mention having their families and relatives affected by the pandemic, impacted the students’ grades as well.
No doubt, educational institutions had to do something to reduce the psychological burden. Thus, many of them adjusted their examination schemes to make them more flexible and accommodating.
As a result, students passed their exams, but it is clear that their degree of preparation did not correspond to the marks they received. University staff and analysts admit that we will have to wait and see how these forgiving measures will influence the situation.
Analysts looking at the effects of the pandemic tend to focus on students who study within the same country. But many universities welcome international students these days. Amidst the pandemic, most of them had to return to their home countries. It subsequently made it difficult for them to come back to finish their degrees at the chosen university.
Exams and graduations were severely halted. QR-codes, COVID-tests, and vaccination requirements continue to make life difficult for students. Yet, most of them have learned to deal with various restrictions. The university staff has been helpful and understanding, too.
Another aspect that is rarely mentioned is the dashed expectations of students. Such events as Freshers’ Day, an annual alumni meeting, or dissertation defense used to be greatly anticipated. Students had a strong emotional connection with such occasions, not to mention their dream graduation day.
Now, as the pandemic eliminates most instances of social activity for students, it is harder to make friends. One has difficulties developing certain soft skills that are perceived as vital for success in life. Most importantly, not experiencing some of these events makes a university course incomplete. And this, by far, is one of the biggest and hardest effects of the pandemic on students.
The pandemic has done some good to students, too. Arguably, some of them have become more self-reliant, single-minded, and resourceful. They have learned to move forward despite the lack of motivation and perfected their time management skills. Now, students are better prepared to live under new circumstances.
However, most of them are still very young. Psychologists state that the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on the psychosocial abilities of students worldwide is yet to be assessed. It is clear, though, that this experience will not leave a single individual unscathed.