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Is online learning bringing you down?

By Dr Frances Cheng, Specialist in Psychiatry

Over the past year, the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives has been widespread. Students of all ages have been affected. The repeated school closures in Hong Kong have not only affected the one million plus students of Hong Kong, but also increased parental stress on many levels.

Tough on students...

The environment of the school, paired with an established schedule, familiar teachers and classmates create the most conductive environment for both academic and social learning. When students do not have access to learning at school, they find it more difficult to engage and progress is hindered. The issues of children becoming bored or uncooperative in online sessions is common amongst students, though more noticeable in younger ones. Problems of young children becoming irritable, clingy and anxious reflect the impact of being isolated from others in a period of their lives when the social experience of being at school helps them develop their language, emotional skills and a sense of identity.

In older students, the use of screens at home as a substitute for school learning creates problems of physical and emotional boundaries, similar to that experienced by adults working from home. This results in fatigue and eventually burn-out as students feel unable to disengage and take a rest from academic-related stresses.

Tougher on parents!

For most parents, online schooling for their children has opened a Pandora’s box of misery. Parents are having to manage a range of new problems, including practical issues such as having an appropriate space and environment to accommodate one or more children, as well as the more emotional and psychological aspects of being a good-enough parent.

For working parents, the responsibility of having to juggle their usual jobs with the additional responsibilities of having to facilitate and more annoyingly, to monitor their children’s online learning, creates stress and leads to exhaustion.

Many parents have spoken to me about feelings of frustration as they try to navigate the myriad of technical problems that their children encounter while feeling disappointed and fed-up that their children are making little progress, and indeed in some cases, slipping backwards with their education. Most parents have, at some point during online learning, struggled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy, when they feel that their child/children are failing to keep up with the curriculum set by the school or when compared with their peers.

If you are feeling this way, it is time to stop and disengage briefly from your child’s online learning before you spiral into more negative and pessimistic thoughts. Three points to remember are:

  1. It is unrealistic to expect that you can replace your child’s teacher(s!) and more importantly the experience your child receives at school. Despite the noblest of efforts by schools to enhance online learning, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction with trained professionals that has been fined-tuned over decades if not centuries to ensure that your child is learning in the best possible environment.

  2. If your child is not making progress or unable to keep up with the curriculum, do not blame yourself. Very often there is too much emotional attachment with teaching one’s own children. Parents begin to wonder why their children are having difficulties in areas which other children are able to understand easily and feelings of anxiety develop regarding the child’s ability, intellect or dedication, as well as feelings of guilt of not doing enough as a parent. These may lead to parents getting upset at the children or themselves, leading to increased tension surrounding schooling in an already undesirable situation. Teachers are trained to understand that all students progress at a different pace and are able to better gauge when a student is struggling and needs extra help.

  3. Finally, it is so important to realise that online learning is something that is new to schools and most schools are still trying to work out and develop the format and structure that works best for their students. This, in addition to the unpredictability of when and for how long schools might be closed, has forced students, parents and teachers to constantly adapt. Compared with the routine and stability of the usual school calendar, this has created further anxiety and frustration.

Some people agree with the government’s decision to close the schools for the safety of students but many feel the actions taken have been excessive. There is little doubt though, that all are hopeful that COVID-19 will be eradicated and school life can return to normal again. In the meantime, try to remember that you are not expected to be a substitute for school and that normality is on the horizon.

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Topics: COVID-19, Mental Health

Dr Frances Cheng

Dr Frances Cheng