With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation, a third national lockdown put in place; students have been glued to their screens daily. Forced to adapt to the endless cycle of Google Classroom, online lessons and piling assignments - what are the consequences of these unforeseen changes to schooling?

The majority of students are accustomed to the conventional schooling system, which enforces routine and structure. They’ve been taught in a manner that involves interactive lessons, a regular routine, handwritten worksheets and homework, whilst working alongside with others. A system where the pupil is able to rely on their teachers, school and friends in order to ensure consistent focus and motivation. The lack of motivation poses an issue as students might feel discouraged from completing work, especially for the exam year pupils as the finish line has become blurred with the recent cancellation of GCSEs and A levels. 

Direct interaction with teachers and pupils creates a more communal setting, which can be difficult to replicate online. This can affect a student’s ability to retain information. Pressure has also been placed on teachers due to the uncertainty of what is coming next and expectations to provide fulfilling lessons over the Internet. 

Aashi Shah, a Y11 student says, “I feel like I was able to engage a lot more during lessons in the normal classroom setup which I found more interactive than sitting in front of a screen all day." 

This highlights how it’s a struggle for students across the nation to adapt to the new learning environment, suggesting that more guidance should be given. Furthermore, online schooling requires pupils to be fixated on computer screens for approximately 4-5 hours for lessons and another few hours for homework too. However, research has proven that the side effects of staring at a screen can be detrimental to a student’s health. These side effects include: eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. These can have even worse impacts on the younger students from the ages of 3-5; studies in 2018 have shown that over 4 hours of screen time can slow down brain development (Source: HealthMatters, National Institutes of Health (NIH)).

How can younger students differentiate from social time and school time on the screen? As well as the uncertainty for students, parents also get drawn to this stressful environment as younger students are unable to fulfill their learning expectations and parents are expected to step into a multirole of a teacher and a working parent. 

The setting of the online school differs between each student, posing an unfair advantage, as the work is not completed under the same circumstances. Distractions in the home paired with technical issues present a problem where some students are unable to create a tranquil learning environment. 

Despite all this, there are some distinct advantages to online learning. 

Students are able to work independently and work at their own pace. Google Classroom works as an efficient system as it keeps all the work in one place and working online is a lot more environmentally friendly as we consume less paper. Moreover, the switch to online school allows students to catch up on sleep because there is no need to wake up early for daily commute.

Tatum O'Keeffe, a Y11 student states,  “I think I am able to focus a lot better because I’m not so distracted by other people. I’m also able to sleep more whilst being on time for school which is very useful.”

Recent studies have shown that the biological clock of an adolescent requires around 9 hours of sleep (Source: NCBI Sleep Needs, Patterns, and Difficulties of Adolescents) however many are only able to get 6.5 hours of sleep due to the need to wake up early for school. Online school enables teenagers to follow their natural sleep pattern and still wake up on time for school. Furthermore, students do not have to travel to school anymore which is beneficial for the environment as it reduces Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions generated by school transport.

Online schooling plays a role in keeping cases low in the pandemic, however, it is important to recognise and address the flaws in its current form.