How Has COVID-19 Impacted Students' Workload?
BY MAY HONG '23 & SIVAPRIYA MARIMUTHU '23
*Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide, self-harm, depression-related topics
The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected students. Even with new tools such as Zoom, Kami, and Google Classroom dominating education, technology has never adequately replaced in-person learning. COVID-19’s influence on school structure and family life has increased the difficulty of completing assignments. Meanwhile, even with some schools cutting curriculum, most schools experienced no major changes in workload size. Though one may assume that completing assignments would be easier online, the contrary is true. Remote learning, with its limited class periods, has decreased student understanding of content, causing kids’ motivation for learning and studying to plummet. The overall decline in mental well-being from COVID-19’s impact only adds to students’ inability to complete schoolwork.
Due to the pandemic, many schools adopted alternative learning models—often a mixture of remote and in-person learning. Though hybrid learning programs ensure that students attend school on alternate days, the inconsistent schedule has proven to be inefficient. With less in-class time and fewer opportunities to ask questions, students often resort to the Internet or friends—both of which can be inaccurate—when they’re confused about a complex topic. In addition, teachers’ lessons suffer from truncated class time. Forced to cram material in a short amount of time, they must sacrifice lesson quality and cut engagement time, which creates more confusion and stress for students.
On asynchronous days, teens are expected to learn from textbooks or videos. Despite efforts to sustain normalcy in a virtual environment, Reuters finds students have struggled to comprehend schoolwork online, resulting in low assessment scores and a decline in youth mental health. While some forms of self-study are beneficial to student development, trying to learn new content without a teacher’s guidance can be frustrating and ineffective. Also, asynchronous tasks can be easily avoided, as students can simply ask their friends for worksheet answers or skip an assigned reading. For schools implementing a fully remote program, the students have it even worse. When given the option to turn off their camera, many students disengage from classes, limiting their understanding of the content.
All these factors result in a worsened student performance in school. Without solid comprehension, students struggle and score poorly on graded assessments such as tests and quizzes. Poor comprehension has a direct correlation with grade decline, which can unfortunately have long-lasting impacts.
Indeed, high school GPA is an important determinant in college admissions and future success, and as a result, presents a large source of stress for many. A low GPA can erode student confidence, causing capable teenagers to underperform. In reality, these students can perform well in school, but the psychological effects of perceived failure ruin the potential of young students.
COVID-19-related effects have also dealt a blow to teen mental health, further increasing the difficulty of completing schoolwork. Recently, the Washington Post quantifies that teenagers have experienced a 31% increase in mental health visits to the hospital, and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reports a 333.93% increase in self harm. These increases are serious medical concerns and can lead to an already high suicide rate. So why are mental health problems skyrocketing?
First, fewer days in school equates to less social interaction; this isolation can make teens feel lonely, unheard, and unsupported. Moreover, certain circumstances, such as strained financial situations resulting from the pandemic, puts unnecessary stress on teens. It is taxing to complete work when one’s household cannot afford necessities. In low-income areas where schools have difficulty providing stable Internet access and computers—which are key for online classes—students’ learning has suffered even more. Finally, uncertainty itself is stressful: with a global health crisis constantly evolving, it is often difficult to focus on school work.
While the virtual environment and the reduction of synchronous learning have already impacted education, mental health declines have only added to difficulties in school. The University of Michigan found a direct correlation between depression and grades. Depression reduces focus, self-esteem, and motivation, presenting a huge obstacle to learning. Meanwhile, school provides another major source of stress and can lead to declines in mental health. Left unaddressed, this vicious cycle can eventually lead to self-harm and suicide.
The coronavirus pandemic has left scars in everyone’s lives. For students, this means a shift in education. With compromised education quality and decreased mental health, grades have dropped significantly, and the repercussions of online learning and isolation linger in youth’s mental health issues. Like the entirety of COVID-19, its effects will last. Thus, like COVID-19, we must also seriously address this “pandemic” of mental health declines by supporting and listening to all students, and prioritizing mental health.