THE Covid-19 pandemic has upset the lifestyles of individuals from all walks of life across the world.
Among them are those of students, who found their traditional learning environments moved to online meeting rooms, the faces of their teachers and classmates relegated to boxes on a device screen.
In Malaysia, the movement control order declared on March 18 last year affected 4.9 million school students and 1.2 million more in higher education institutions.
While schools were scheduled to reopen their doors on Jan 20 this year, the plan was short-lived with the onset of MCO 2.0. In a bid to continue delivering lessons, schools still have to rely on home-based teaching and learning (PdPR), at least for the majority of students.
The Education Ministry’s PdPR manual guides teachers in conducting both online and offline activities, and there is the educational television programme – TV Pendidikan – for students who do not have access to the Internet or digital devices. Even so, e-learning remains the main method of PdPR for most.
Teachers have used various online tools in doing so, from Google Classroom and Zoom to WhatsApp and Telegram.
The ministry has also implemented various measures to ease the transition to online learning, including having dedicated online learning platforms, hosting webinars and educational videos, and ensuring digital access by distributing laptops.
However, the burden of adopting a new learning model has taken a huge toll on the mental health of students.
For example, a survey conducted by Young Minds in March 2020 found 83 per cent of the 2,111 students with a history of mental health needs surveyed in the United Kingdom reporting worsened pre-existing mental health conditions.
Closer to home, a study conducted among university students in Malaysia discovered that close to 30 per cent of the participants experienced varying degrees of anxiety during this period of remote learning.
Mental health experts and educationists agree that this is a worrying sign amid the new normal, which sees online learning continuing for the foreseeable future.
Teach for Malaysia chief executive officer Chan Choon Seng shared from his experience that students’ online learning experiences are hampered by various challenges, the most common being lack of access to a learning device, distractions at home and lack of support.
He added that the disruption to instructional delivery has made it harder for teachers to keep lessons engaging, thus resulting in some students losing interest in studying, consequently placing huge burdens on teachers to deliver.
Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said that the stress students encountered during this time of online learning might cause them to develop mental illnesses, effects of which could last till much later on in life.
Both agreed that there is a need for constant communication and cooperation among parents, teachers and students to provide a conducive learning environment for students at home. They concurred that there is a need for students to prioritise their mental health over their academics.
“A temporary setback in academic performance or loss of an academic year will not make a big difference in the larger scheme of things in life, ” said Dr Mohanraj.
Students told StarEdu that the main challenges they have faced during online learning are lack of support, distractions at home and technical difficulties. These, among other factors, have caused increased stress and anxiety.
“I am an anxious person, and this experience with online learning has made it even harder, ” a student said, adding that he feels unprepared for his upcoming examinations.
Another student hopes that the public will understand that online study is no easy feat, and that the mental health of students is as important as exam results, if not more. She added that she hopes to see all parties take part in improving the quality of online learning. – By JONATHAN LEE RONG SHENG> MORE STORIES ON PAGE 5