The chaotic 2020 is finally over. The new year has arrived, and with it, the longing for the normality we once had in our lives. Most are looking for ways to find a fresh start, but not much has changed. You are probably still logging into the same Zoom calls from the same room at your house, drained from staring at the screen for so long, and feeling exhausted about how COVID-19 is still surging among our communities.
Although the vaccine news has offered hope, the uncertainty of when it will be available does not change much. All of our lives have been disrupted. Healthcare and essential workers have sacrificed everything, while so many have lost their jobs amid an economic crisis. Many have lost their loved ones to this virus. Although it has been unquestionably and certainly challenging for those who have faced this pandemic first hand, students’ struggle during all of this still somehow is not as talked about as it should be. Many graduated in 2020 virtually, and more are about to graduate from a virtual senior year. No one should not question the seriousness of this pandemic. The numbers and doctors have already warned us of how quick-spreading and deadly it can be. However, students face more significant risks staying home, especially when so much has reopened while schools remain closed. This year, students need to return to campus safely.
When the virus first hit, schools quickly transitioned to online education. It tested the education system and showed that the best they came up with was the best they could find, but this is no longer the case. Usually, teachers present slideshows with the material during class, followed by an assignment. This probably sounds like a good idea, but most of these presentations are long and repetitive. Lacking a hands-on experience decreases the ability to retain information and, with it, the desire to learn. Being taught in the same way for such an extended period has made the whole experience incredibly monotonous. Also, teacher-student communication is not functional. It used to be simple; if a student was struggling, they could use free-period or lunchtime for extra support. Now, you must send an email and wait back for a reply that could maybe never even come. And with technology, there usually is not much you can do about it. The frustration that comes from technical difficulties and wifi issues affects class dynamics, making the whole experience more tedious. It may be true that online school is the future of education. Countless people argue that this transition was meant to happen; it just did earlier and faster than it should have. However, it is not okay to dismiss the issue so quickly. The world was not ready for such a sudden shift, evidenced by the digital divide highlighted by distance learning in the past year. In countries like Switzerland, 95% of students own a computer for school, and in India, only 34% have that privilege. Not only has it affected children’s ability to learn, but also their own desire to do so.
Even though schools transitioned to distance learning almost a year ago, teen mental health repercussions are still concerning. According to the Pasteur Institute of France, schools are not a source of contagion. Returning to school gives teens a routine, more to look forward to, and a sense of normality. Socializing with peers and extracurriculars can take away from academic and personal stress. Such crisis, emerging from virtual school, has been shown because lockdown has caused 73% of teens in Latin-America to ask for help concerning their well-being, and 46% have less motivation to do what they once enjoyed (a significant sign of depression). However, many parents argue that they would rather have a sad child than an unsafe one. But do they realize that as mental health issues keep escalating, that means they are not safe either? When you lock kids down and prevent social interaction, they will most likely rebel and stop following protocols. Wouldn’t they rather have a child that can see their friends while socially distanced, thus improving their learning experience? I know I would.
One of the student’s major concerns is that being absent from the classroom will not prepare them for the future. Seniors 2020 graduated virtually and completed their final graduation project online. A year later, the Seniors 2021 will do the same. Last year, Secretaria de Educacion approved the protocols of over 659 institutions and alternation models so that students can slowly and surely get back on campus. But, the process of doing so needs to happen much faster than it is. High school students enter university without much introduction to the academic workload because of the lack of oral presentations and an effective work environment. Additionally, because of the unavailability of social preparation opportunities, “I feel I don’t have the social skills anymore to go to university. I feel it will be tough for me to socialize and know how to make friends, and that is a tough situation,” Juana Diez, Grade 12, said. In retrospect, 43% of women and 37% of men feel pessimistic about the future, numbers higher than in previous years. Students could avoid these feelings by returning to school. If they have been proven not to be superspreaders like adults, who have all gone back to work a few months ago, why can’t they go to school? High school is supposed to prepare students for the future to the best of their abilities. Maybe virtual school’s damage won’t be seen now or in a year, but the world will eventually see its ramifications.
As schools consider returning for alternation models, they need to remember that there is no reason to stop when good results have been shown from the transition. The emotional and academic damage of extending distance learning has been enough and will only continue to get worse if the reliance on Zoom calls and reactive strategies carries on.