Graduating High-School During a Global Pandemic
The academic year 2019 to 2020 had just ended, and it was the day students, teachers, and parents alike had been dreading - 'End of Year Report Day'. Students of all ages scuffled to their classrooms, as their parents followed suit, to collect their mark sheets that would determine whether they had been promoted to the next grade or not. As I looked down at my mark sheet, I let out a sigh of relief, comforted by the fact that I had made it through. You can imagine my elation as I flipped through and found a slip of paper informing us of a one-week holiday we had due to some concerns regarding a virus going around. Not thinking much of it, I celebrated quietly, leaving my school with a smile plastered foolishly on my face. Little did I know of what was yet to come.
Online classes started a while after. Teachers found it hard to adjust to the new technology and new mode of learning. In a study that was conducted, when asked about the problems generally faced by them while taking classes online or what were the negative aspects of online classes, the majority of them (64.2% of the sample of 70 teachers) reported technical issues like poor connectivity, power cuts, broadband issue, poor audio and video quality as the main issue. This led to the inability to control students' attendance rates, having it reach an all-time low. 37.1% of the teachers reported a lack of student involvement and engagement in the classes as a problem. They reported that students during online classes made a lot of excuses and showed a lack of seriousness. The dwindling numbers demotivated teachers. 15.7% reported that poor attendance due to reasons like some students being in their hometown where connectivity issues are there, followed by lack of motivation from students’ side to attend classes was another issue faced. Some also reported that the online mode seemed too formal and lacked a personal touch and did not seem lively. (The International Journal of Indian Psychology 2020)
The results of the survey conducted on students showed that 87.1% reported that they preferred classroom teaching method more than online teaching mode. Only 12.9% preferred online classes. When asked about the problems generally faced by them during classes online or what were the negative aspects of online classes, the majority of them (55.7% of the sample of 407) reported technical issues like poor network connectivity, power cuts, broadband issue, poor audio and video quality, problems with the app, getting disconnected in between the classes and finding it hard to log in again as the main issues. The students were left feeling lethargic and dismal, as they did everything they could to avoid attending classes citing 'weak wi-fi' and 'defective technology' as excuses as well. 23.3% reported that they found it difficult to concentrate during online classes, distractions at home were more, no structured learning environment makes it harder for the students to focus during the class. Some of them even reported that having a lack of supportive home environment and family issues makes it harder for them to fully involve themselves during online classes. 22.1% reported that online classes were difficult to understand and follow, especially when it came to practical subjects, lack of concept clarity, no structured format, or time scheduled followed. According to them, too many subjects are scheduled on the same day which makes it difficult for them to stay alert and active. They feel information overload and fatigue.
Students felt that when classes are taken through online channels, teachers do not teach effectively, they run through the syllabus and students feel they are being overloaded with information. 15.4% reported the online classes to be less interactive, no communication between students or with teachers, and makes it harder to participate. Thus, the online classes they felt were less lively, lacked a friendly atmosphere and social interaction. 12.7% of them felt a lack of motivation and interest to attend online classes. Some of the other issues reported were financial constraints. Students reported that the online classes increased their expense by recharging the data frequently, due to which they felt burdened, especially for students who come from less financially stable homes. (The International Journal of Indian Psychology, 2020). In another study, it was found that out of the 324 students, 223 (68.8%) had high fear of COVID-19, 93 (28.7%) had moderate to severe depression, and 167 (51.5%) had mild to severe anxiety. (JMIRx Med 2021) The pandemic really took a heavy toll on the daily lives and mental health of students everywhere.
I hated online lectures. I missed the in-person courses. I missed the hustle and bustle of students rushing to their seats as they heard the first bell ring, and the lively discussions that had almost every student erupt with laughter or voice their opinions. This discourse was not found online, with students being too afraid to unmute and speak their minds. Our cameras were off most of the time- we were either still in bed or at our desks donning pyjamas rather than the school-issued uniforms.
I studied at a private school in Miramar. There were six lectures every day; usually, only 45 minutes long, wherein the teacher would explain various concepts, which we'd later have to write down after classes ended. Now usually in school, we'd do this simultaneously- write while they explained, to grasp the concept without trying to rote-learn. Still, since there were fewer classes in a day, this was rendered impossible, as there was simply not enough time to do this within the 45-minute online lectures, as we were way behind schedule. Due to this, teachers had to rush through portions and gave us piles and piles of assignments to do after class.
Tests, reviews, and exams also took place, but whether the final ISC Board Exams would happen in-person or online was the question plaguing every nervous student and stressed-out teacher alike. The reviews were conducted online, so it was hard to monitor whether students were sincere while answering the tests. Exams happened offline somewhere in December, but seeing how tired I felt every day, my parents told me I should opt-out, so that's what I did. Looking back at it now, I’m glad I made that decision because I know how miserable I would've felt if I had gone through with them. The preliminary exams or 'Prelims', as they are more popularly known, went well without a hitch. Well, almost. Before my psychology paper, I felt woefully underprepared, even though that was not the case. I had gone through my handmade notes, as well as the text, enough times to write that paper with my eyes shut and my non-dominant hand behind my back. Still, the morning of the exam, I felt like I knew nothing. That dreaded feeling of fear crept into my head, and I felt paralysed. I vigorously rushed through my notes before rushing out of the house because I knew I was running late. A rude taxi driver and a forgotten mask were all it took to have me break down in tears 10 minutes before my paper. I experienced so much mental distress while writing the exam that I forgot some of my studied material. Apart from that one incident, prelims went alright, but it did take quite a toll on my mental health.
When it came to projects, those of us, including myself, who worked well with a deadline in mind, started to find it hard to keep track of ongoing assignments. The days turned into nights as we attempted to deliver our best work within the allotted time. Being a perfectionist and a procrastinator put me at a significant disadvantage in this scenario, as I would complete my assignments, projects, and papers at the last minute, while editing, changing, and modifying as I went along. The end-product was always better than average material, but the entire process stressed me out so much I experienced psychological burnout. Burnout can be defined as 'a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.' (HelpGuide 2021)
As pending work started to accumulate, my mental health continued to deteriorate. At this time, I would have loved to speak to my friends in person, but I was unable to do so due to the pandemic and the lockdown. Keeping in touch with friends over messaging and social media platforms such as Whatsapp and Instagram for non-school-related reasons became tedious. I went from staring at a medium-size screen from 8 am to 1:30 pm to staring at a small screen from 2 pm onwards, then back to the medium screen to submit work 5 minutes before the deadline. This routine left me in a rut, one I didn't believe I had any control over. I started losing friends I thought I would never have to let go of. This made class a bore.
The one escape I had from the screens shoved in my face was evening walks. With earphones plugged in and a mask over my nose and mouth, I was determined to walk and stop worrying and overthinking for the next two hours. Loud music blasted in my ears as I walked outside in my neighbourhood. I was fortunate enough to live in a bungalow inside a gated community, where hardly any outsiders loitered. The walks helped me clear my head on days I felt bogged down with academic stress. What also helped was playing video games, which forced me to fully concentrate on what was happening on the screen. This also helped me get closer to some of my classmates, who I now consider good friends. These two things- walks and video games, helped get my mind off of studies for a brief period and helped me cope with feelings of loneliness and glumness. Each person's needs are different, though, so what worked for me might not work for you, and that's okay. Once you find an activity that helps manage your stress, it is, frankly, one of the most relieving feelings ever.
My eleventh-grade experience had surpassed all of my expectations. I learnt more than I had any of my previous academic years, and it was chock-full of events filled with enthusiasm and mirth. Twelfth grade felt immensely different. Filled with more stress and melancholy than ever before. There was a disconnect between us and the material we studied that could only be recovered by in-person classes. I wish I had more time in class, creating memories that didn't involve dozing off in front of the laptop screen. The Board decided not to hold the final exams and devised a formula to determine our final marks. The work we put in throughout the year culminated in our results, where many of us passed with flying colours. So, in the end, the painstaking effort I put into completing my projects and submitting them on time paid off. Finishing high school was much more complicated than I thought it would be, and unfortunately less fulfilling.
I took a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do in college. Psychology is my field of interest, but I'm unsure what I would like to specialise in. College applications have recently opened up, and the process of applying seems more daunting than ever. Since I graduated during what is known as a 'Coronavirus Year', I have no idea how this year's application process will differ from before, which is a terrifying fact. Since I have nothing to compare it to, I am lost on how to approach the process. I'm currently trying to gauge my next move, but until then, constantly researching colleges and checking application portals is the norm.
All in all, twelfth grade taught me a lot, directly and indirectly. The reality is that not every experience you go through will treat you well, and you often end up disappointed. But that is no reason to ever skip out on any of these experiences. That academic year was one of the toughest I’ve ever gone through- not academically, but definitely in terms of mental distress. Even though I have my reservations when it comes to applying to colleges, I still am quite eager to see what college has in store for me. It’s an experience worth looking forward to.
1. Smith, M., Segal, J., and Robinson, L., (November, 2021), HelpGuide https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
2. D. Nambiar (2020). The impact of online learning during COVID- 19: students' and teachers’ perspective. International Journal of Indian Psychology, 8(2), 783-793. DIP:18.01.094/20200802, DOI:10.25215/0802.094
3. Chaudhary A, Sonar N, TR J, Banerjee M, Yadav S (2021). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of College Students in India: Cross-sectional Web-Based Study, JMIRx Med 2021;2(3):e28158, DOI: 10.2196/28158