With the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, changes in all facets of life have been made both forcefully, through government restrictions, and naturally, as a result of said restrictions/changes. One of these facets is university life, how students learn and how teachers teach. I will be focusing on how the changes and restrictions students in universities face have affected their mindsets and lives. In this article I will use extracts from an interview I conducted with a student studying a BEng Mechanical Engineering degree in South Africa. I will also use my own personal experiences as a student in the Czech Republic at Masaryk University studying English For Teaching.
The first question I asked was: “Has online learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic made it easier or more difficult to study?” For context, the student’s university does not offer live lectures, but pre-recorded lectures that the student has access to, along with other study materials. The interviewee noted that it is overall a more challenging and difficult experience to study as they said, “I lack the interaction with the lecturers and the fact that I have to work from home makes it more difficult to concentrate. This is because I am in a relaxed environment”. In comparison, my lecturers mostly offer online classes biweekly where students can interact with the lecturer, as well as each other, and ask questions. However, this is by no means the same as in-person teaching as students feel less obligated to focus as much as they would in person. It also places practical restrictions on those with insufficient technical know-how as well as prerequisites such as a stable internet connection etc. Some students may not be able to afford these prerequisites as a result of their parents or the people who fund their studying losing their job/s. This can be seen in the drastic drop in enrolments, both local and international, at universities. According to ‘University World News’, international enrolments at universities in the US during their autumn semester dropped by 16% and new student enrolments dropped by 43% (Marklein, 2020). Covid-19 was not the only factor that influenced these statistics, but it is definitely the most prominent. It also creates complications such as students’ families or roommates interrupting their lessons. In South Africa, electrical power cuts, known as “load-shedding”, occur somewhat frequently and this can hinder students when they are in the middle of tests or lessons. The frequency of these power cuts has been at a record high in 2020 (Staff Writer, 2020). This only increases the challenges students have to face. These kinds of unexpected interruptions can greatly affect a student’s studying capabilities and, in the case of a test interrupted and thus failed, even cost them their place at university.
The interviewee also mentioned the point that they were now working in an environment typically associated with rest and relaxation which now has to be turned into one of work and focus. This change in working environment has greatly affected both myself and many other students across many fields. This can be seen in the interviewee’s statement, “My friend who is studying Theatre, as well as many of their and my friends in Mechanical Engineering as well as other fields, have also found that working at home is more difficult and mentally detrimental.” They also mentioned that the self-study that had to be done during in-person studies was more difficult as the student would have to work after getting home, while tired. Thus, the new state of online studying has freed up students to do self-study and other assignments, etc. whenever they please. However, this is only possible with advanced self-discipline, which was not necessary for most students during in-person classes before the Covid-19 pandemic happened. For many students, the lack of this skill has made focusing on their studies much more difficult and less structured. Another thing that adds to this lack of structure is the absence of in-person classes and times. When students were able to go to campus, they had a far more rigid schedule, which was easier to follow as it was compulsory. But, because of the online nature of studies, the interviewee along with many other students finds it difficult to initiate their studies and follow a schedule while faced with many distractions around them at home. This environment has also played a role in students’ mental health.
When asked if the interviewee’s mental health had improved or diminished as a result of online learning, they answered, “My mental health has definitely diminished when compared with in-person learning. This is because there isn’t any interaction with other students before and after classes, which you would get on campus. Our inability to have a social life, in terms of going out, has also greatly impacted my mental health as I find a lot of happiness in interacting with others”. This social deficiency that most students now face has only worsened their situations. This decrease in social interaction has definitely negatively impacted students’ mental health, and thus their academic performance. This is seen in a survey performed in the USA, where 71% of participating students declared an increase in stress and anxiety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (Son et al., 2020).
In the same study, 82% of those who participated in the study indicated some form of concern surrounding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their academic performance. This helps to illustrate that most students are worried about their academic performance. This kind of performance anxiety is detrimental to students’ mental and physical health. Another source of anxiety that the pandemic has induced is that of concern for loved one’s health, especially if they are in an at-risk group. However, the interviewee did state that they had more energy and were less tired as a result of not having to commute to campus and back every day. This is not the case for all students, however, as many don’t have to commute to campus regularly for many reasons. And 86% of students in the study stated that they now had disruptions to their sleeping patterns, which is indicative of their being more tired more frequently (Son et al., 2020). Therefore, the majority of students have suffered mentally as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In conclusion, most university students, whether living in First World countries such as the USA or parts of Europe or Third World countries such as South Africa, have been negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the changes brought about in response to it.
Marklein, M., 2020. New International Student Enrolments Drop By 43% In US. [online] University World News. Available at: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20201116050900954 [Accessed 29 November 2020].
Writer, S., 2020. Load Shedding In 2020 Has Been the Worst On Record: Graph. [online] Businesstech.co.za. Available at: https://businesstech.co.za/news/energy/431102/load-shedding-in-2020-has-been-the-worst-on-record-graph/#:~:text=South%20Africa%20is%20likely%20to,shedding%20at%2015h00%20on%20Wednesday.&text=He%20noted%20that%20the%20average,debt%20grew%20nearly%2010%2Dfold. [Accessed 29 November 2020].
Son, C., Hagde, S., Smith, A., Wong, X. and Sasangohar, F., 2020. Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, [online] 22(9), p.1. Available at: https://www.jmir.org/2020/9/e21279/ [Accessed 29 November 2020].
Miller, K., 2021. The Benefits of Online Learning: 7 Advantages Of Online Degrees. [online] Northeastern University Graduate Programs. Available at: https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/benefits-of-online-learning/ [Accessed 4 January 2021].