Covid-19, online learning, and deteriorating student well-being



Well-being, constantly echoed in the media, refers to a person's emotional and psychological status rather than physical wellness.


Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Monika Pedersen


The impact of Covid-19 on the population's well-being is a pertinent discussion and definitely a focal point for educators. Even in differing school systems, there is a shared appreciation that students do not learn effectively when their state of mind is fragile and unstable. No one could predict how an already concerning issue could hit such a critical point.


Ironically, in the first few weeks of the first lockdown, there was a sense of euphoria from students that 'school is out,' so to speak. However, the true meaning of lockdown with restrictions on physical contact and social interaction meant that this feeling of 'freedom' soon disappeared, only to be replaced with a sense of loneliness and boredom.


The usual routine of the school journey, the daily schedule, deadlines, and exams were all displaced, and a new set of practices were being formed. Everyone was learning a 'new script'. And while some people can embrace change, for most, it brings a level of anxiety and, in more severe cases, stress and depression.


Online learning emerged overnight

The virtual classroom can be a positive experience if a student has a modern media device, a strong internet connection, a quiet, specific learning area, and a good concentration span.


Students can experience a calmer classroom situation, focus more, and share questions with the teacher in private and online chat. Some of the more negative social interactions tend not to take place in a virtual classroom. One class 9 student at Institut Sankt Joseph commented, ¨I can focus on my work, and not have to deal with any interruptions.¨


Sadly, the ideal is not a shared experience. Patchy internet and connection lags make it hard to keep up with the lesson. A lack of a learning space owing to tight living conditions and family members working from home also hampers concentration. If self-discipline is rigid, the increased pressure to take sole responsibility for one's learning is an additional tension for students that compounds an already challenging situation. Moreover, unless the school has carefully considered the provisions for students with learning needs, internet teaching fails to deliver this, and students are left with insufficient resources and increased emotional strain.


Craving for human contact

To cap all of this, the biggest challenge is the missing social interaction. Young people are all familiar with social media apps, but they have realised that actual human contact cannot be replaced by the virtual.


Young people are all familiar with social media apps, but they have realised that actual human contact cannot be replaced by the virtual.

To try to address social connectivity, 'at risk' students are asked to attend school. This provides a sense of belonging and safety. Students still learn virtually, but there is supervision on hand to explain a question, deal with technical issues, or provide a cosy feeling by serving hot chocolate, which is a real mood lifter!


Odense International School has made student wellness a high priority and allocated specific days where activities such as journaling or one-on-one' check in' dialogues and online baking, mask making, scavenger hunts, etc., take place.



The Danish government has recently recognised the depth of concern regarding student mental health and has sanctioned outside classroom teaching for older students. This is a phenomenal step as it allows for social interaction, but it also brings another dimension to the learning experience. The move away from the digital aspect gives students the freedom to explore, investigate, and experience their environment. It is also a healthy option whereby movement and fresh air are incorporated into the learning experience. The benefits are positive, and many students and teachers are thrilled for the opportunity to be together and have a good time whilst learning! A class 8 student commented. ¨It made me appreciate school and want to work harder.¨


A teacher's support

Continual communication is vital. The key is to listen very closely to the child's tone of voice and their responses to gauge how they are coping.


It is easier for some students, who find self-expression hard, to be given phrases that indicate a range of feelings, such as 'I'm great' or 'not a good day'. These allow a barometer reading and prompt further dialogue.


Should there be signs that a child is withdrawing by erratic attendance, a lack of work or participation, a refusal to turn on the camera, parents are contacted to discuss ways to support.

Should there be signs that a child is withdrawing by erratic attendance, a lack of work or participation, a refusal to turn on the camera, parents are contacted to discuss ways to support.


An idea could be to partner up with another family so a child can have actual contact by participating in a walk while maintaining social distancing and masking up.


It is also essential to provide children with a toolkit of strategies to help them when anxiety sets in. To do this, they initially articulate what makes them feel stressed, and then they list the activities that make them feel calm or happy. They also identify one or two people to whom they can turn for help and support. This encourages young people to take control of the situation and supports self-empowerment.


Parental strategies to foster well-being

Parents are also struggling with their new role, the change in their own work situations, and the family expectations they need to fulfil. The crucial necessity is to remain realistic, reasonable towards oneself, and nurture a strong unity within the family.


There is no quick fix, but a few steps that may help could include:

  1. Maintain consistency through routines, such as keeping set wake up times, work sessions, mealtimes, and exercise regimes.

  2. Model optimism to cast out a child's self-doubt and negativity.

  3. Celebrate a child's strengths, talents and achievements to build self-belief.

  4. Keep a sense of humour to demonstrate a balanced approach to life's challenging situations.

  5. Explain boundary-setting about worries that can be addressed and those that are beyond control. Reassure a child that they can 'dump' the uncontrollable ones to reduce anxiety.

  6. Teach them to take one day at a time and see life as a series of steps that can be tackled one by one.

  7. Help them find peace of mind by using apps such as https://www.headspace.com/ and https://www.smilingmind.com.au/

  8. Allocate specific time to relax, pursue a hobby or enjoy family activities.

Should additional support be needed, help is at hand. 'Psykiatrifonden' is available to help young people who feel that the isolation and limited social life owing to Covid-19 is affecting their mental health. The team can be reached on +45 39 25 25 25


More open-mindedness

Covid-19 has exposed the complexity and the breadth of our societal mental health issues, and the hope is that finally, more discussion and concrete help will emerge, and mental wellness will be treated just like any other illness.


Sources:

https://www.tcdsb.org/ProgramsServices/EarlyYears/Kto2/Resources/Documents/Creating%20the%20Outdoor%20Classroom.pdf

https://dpu.au.dk/en/research/research-themes/all-themes/wellbeing/

https://www.thelocal.dk/20210303/mental-health-of-one-in-five-in-denmark-suffered-during-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.edutopia.org/article/focusing-student-well-being-times-crisis

https://lnkd.in/gu7MUkV

https://www.psykiatrifonden.dk/

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