Digital Skills | SDG4 | Youth
April 3, 2020

COVID-19: How students view the sudden shift to online learning

By ITU News

Like over 1.5 billion school children around the world, Grace, a 14-year-old high school student in the Geneva area of Switzerland, is getting used to going to school at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She wakes up, turns on her laptop, quickly finishes her school assignments and goes to get breakfast. On Monday morning, she sleeps through her regularly scheduled sports class.

Indeed, students of all ages in countries around the world are adjusting to the abrupt closure of schools in the past few weeks.

“Learning in a home environment is different from the classroom, but I think everyone right now is trying out different ways to make it work for them,” said a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York City, USA.

Schools in 165 countries around the world have closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, according to UNESCO. As a result, teachers have rushed to prepare distance learning tools – with parents grappling with how to teach kids at home – to ensure that #LearningNeverStops.

But how are children and young people adjusting to this new way of learning? ITU News spoke to students at different stages of their education – primary school, high school and university – to get a clearer picture.

Online tools

Online learning tools vary between countries and schools. Some teachers share coursework by email. Others direct students to websites for self-paced learning. Still, others are conducting face-to-face classes on online meeting platforms, such as Zoom. Even extracurricular activities such as ballet, music and physical education classes are suddenly now conducted online.

“Remote learning is the only option we have right now – a strong and reliable internet connection has never been more important.” – a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York City, USA.

For some students, the switch was relatively easy. “The switch went relatively smoothly since assignments and readings were mostly online already – it’s just that lectures and recitations have moved online,” said the graduate student at Columbia University. “Remote learning is the only option we have right now – a strong and reliable internet connection has never been more important.”

But some students around the world, this is a more difficult premise  even in some areas of the world’s most developed countries.

For instance, one primary school student in the Geneva area of Switzerland has missed out on flute lessons recently, because her teacher who lives in a more remote area of nearby France does not have the tools necessary to provide online classes. “His internet doesn’t work very well,” said the nine-year-old.

For students in less-developed countries, continuing their education from home is even more difficult during the pandemic. Closing the digital education divide is a vital step for students around the world during – and beyond – the COVID-19 school closures.

Increased screen-time

Beyond sleeping through gym class, some students who have access to regular high-speed internet access have been enjoying the flexibility and freedom of pace that online education provides. “It is nice to have a different way of learning,” said Serafina, a high school student in the Geneva area.

Students of all ages in countries around the world are adjusting to the abrupt closure of schools in the past few weeks.

School children today were born to be digital.

ITU estimates that digital natives – 15 to 24-year-olds with five or more years of experience online – represent 70.6 per cent of the global youth population.

Despite this, there is a marked increased amount of screen time necessary to complete their newly online education.

“I’m known as the screen addict in my family and even I would say that my screen time has gone up significantly,” said Grace. “My battery goes out in an instant… you get bored of technology really easily.”

For younger school children who previously didn’t use the Internet for school projects, the adjustment to using the Internet all the time is not always easy. They lack the training and skills to properly use the multiple different forms of software that they are now supposed to use to continue their education during the crisis.

“I don’t really understand how to work it sometimes. Sometimes I freak out for nothing, because I don’t really understand what happened,” a nine-year-old student told ITU News. “When I make a mistake, I don’t know what to do and sometimes I think I deleted everything.”

The importance of online socialization

Maintaining close friendships has been shown to reduce stress and help children navigate difficult developmental experiences. With so many children now unable to socialize freely, children are spending more time online to maintain these vital relationships.

“That’s the biggest con to all of this: not being able to socialize face to face,” Grace told ITU News.

The sudden shift to online education has meant that one nine-year-old student had been given a smartphone “way ahead of schedule” – as her parent explained – in order to keep in touch with friends on WhatsApp and FaceTime – although “most of them are asking who can play Fortnite,” said her sister, an 11-year-old junior school student.

Keeping safe online

This also raises an important question about online safety: have students, especially those who are new to these online tools, been informed about how to identify fake news when researching school projects at home or keep safe online?

“Concerning social media, which we’re definitely using a lot more of, it’s just something we’ve been brought up to know and they’ve told us from a very young age how to cope with. But honestly, it’s quite surprising [our teachers] haven’t said more about [cybersecurity] since we’ve been online,” Serafina said.

The junior school students that we spoke to were advised to limit screen time as much as possible and keep a parent close-by in case they have any questions.

If you have any concerns or questions, check out ITU’s Child Online Protection programme which offers students, teachers and parents tips and advice on how to keep children safe online during the current pandemic outbreak and beyond.

Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images
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COVID-19: How students view the sudden shift to online learning

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