The world as we knew it has changed forever. The COVID-19 virus continues to disrupt learning globally forcing the alternative to "in-person" classes: online schooling. Be it Google Meet or Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Classroom, the one thing we all agree upon is that we miss the "good ol' days" of face to face interaction.
While learning platforms have transitioned from physical to digital, not much else has changed. The quarks and chemical bonding that we learnt about on whiteboards is now taught using virtual ones and the workload is as hefty as ever. Although the interactive element has been missing, as a 12th grader we never had much of it anyway! This leads me to question, if the only major distinction is the platform, why has our learning experience been so different? Why is attendance dropping and why are scores plummeting?
In my opinion, the answer lies in the environment and approach towards teaching coupled with its reception. Nobody was prepared for the challenges that the pandemic threw at us. It's a struggle to tackle the never-ending list of assignments especially with mental health issues in teens being at an all-time high. The administration can be more flexible with deadlines and the workload based on feedback from students to allow for a less stressful learning experience. Our school, for instance, has set a tentative timeline for us to space our tasks to help save us the trouble of scheduling and hassle of time-management.
Still, schools haven't cut back much on their curricular expectations and "ineffective" learning becomes detrimental for students in the long run. Many virtual classes nowadays choose lectures and slide reading as not all traditional teaching methods can be adopted. I prefer less conventional approaches like class activities, debates and discussions as opposed to assignments to be turned in. With interactive being the way to go, these alternatives can be substituted for a more meaningful, effective and fun learning space.
It's important to recognize that teachers only contribute to 50 percent of the equation of profitless E-learning. I learned this during a lecture that I led where presenting my work to the screen of alphabets felt as though my efforts were being invalidated. Trying towards a discussion was met with silence (the analogy "speaking to a wall" seemed to describe the situation perfectly). As a student, I know it's all too easy to scroll through lnstagram while our teachers aren't watching, but what are the consequences of these actions?
I empathize with teachers and students around the world and recognize that online learning is not a long term alternative in a post-Covid world. As someone who would be classified as an extreme introvert, I'm still surprised to see how much the small interactions actually impacted my views on learning in general! Unfortunately though, all we can do for now is try to find the silver lining and ensure that we put in our efforts so our futures aren't jeopardized.
Judge’s Note: Shirin wrote a very powerful reminder of the downsides of technology and the continued high curricular expectations during remote learning; and pleaded for greater recognition of student mental health and interactive class activities.
This post is one of the three winning entries of the third World Bank Group and Financial Times Blog Writing Competition.