We need to maintain face-to-face learning as much as possible to support students' mental and physical health, writes Tanay Toshniwal.
THE END OF term one at my school in Melbourne was approaching and we were yearning for a break.
The news was constantly spurring with the "new virus" that had originated from Wuhan, China — a coronavirus known as COVID-19. I listened in, taken aback by the tragic news. It came to light that Australia had experienced its first new cases in January.
Not having experienced such an event, I was confused but somewhat excited after hearing that schools would be closing down and students would move to online learning. I thought, “This should be fun, I can sleep late.” As the last week of term one approached, I had delightful thoughts that I would be able to wake up five minutes before class started and I could eat whatever, whenever.
When online learning commenced, I initially expected it to be sessions that would disappear relatively soon. I was wrong — very wrong.
After a month, as coronavirus cases spiked, I discovered that we would be in these circumstances for a while. Soon, I began to notice the effects of the virus on my education and my physical and mental health. It was a fearful prospect — further exaggerated by boredom, demotivation and unnecessary distractions.
Social media is known to be a contributing factor in negatively impacting the desire of some individuals to be creative or productive with their time. Some would argue that social media is entertainment, which it is, however, it can also be an unhealthy distraction.
When it comes to using technology, social media is the supreme distraction and it encourages procrastination. Technology use fits somewhere between chaos and order: we subconsciously progress through the day, not noticing the time we spend on social media or the illusion that social media is.
Also, excessive use of technology can bring about the lack of a defined routine. This can affect the circadian rhythm of an individual, leading to possible sleep deprivation and fatigue during the day. Therefore, it is important to define and maintain a routine, to improve your mental and physical health.
I often wonder what happened in April — the truth is that Victoria had very few daily cases and an eased lockdown. However, as this was the introduction period into online learning, we students spent another six weeks behind a computer in term two due to a continuation of restrictions.
Fortunately, however, we resumed face-to-face learning for the last four weeks of school in term two. Unfortunately, coronavirus cases spiked and we went straight back to online learning throughout term three.
By this time, online learning was having a significant negative effect on my education and my physical and mental health — and it was having an impact on my individuality. This was further emphasised by constant distractions, boredom and overall unhappiness.
Despite online learning being the safest and most practical solution, given COVID-19, it is not easy to practise. It is almost impossible to avoid the truth — for many students, online learning will never equate to face-to-face learning.
I usually get distracted by notification messages and sometimes I try to find distractions to entertain myself. Altogether, this leads to me not always completing my work. However, it is possible to focus if one can overcome the temptation of just opening a Snapchat or watching TikToks.
With being mostly demotivated to do schoolwork, I also found it more challenging to get a sufficient amount of exercise every day. Due to increased restrictions, it was nearly impossible to get a decent bike ride in. Fortunately, I did exercise every day — however, not passionately.
Additionally, with increased access to food by being at home, I found myself eating unhealthy confectionary items throughout the day. Bad eating habits can lead to obesity or other chronic health-related issues.
Online learning and lockdown considerably impacted my mental health. With increased procrastination, there was more homework, which caused more stress. This finally resulted in anxiety as well as a deprived sleeping schedule.
With face-to-face learning, it is possible to remain focused in class and get most of your work done, therefore there is less homework. This allows for other activities, such as sports or interacting with friends, which allows for a healthier lifestyle — not only physically, but mentally. However, with strict lockdown and online learning, these aspects of my life were severely impacted.
Without a doubt, the effects of decreased physical and mental health can lead to a negative effect on one’s personality and individuality. Being stuck at home and interacting socially with only your family, people – more specifically students – can develop deficiencies in the way they talk to others, which they might not notice. In the long run, this can lead to impaired social skills, social anxiety and depression, which are severe issues in the 21st century.
In Australia, research suggests that almost 13 per cent of Australians experience social anxiety in their lifetime. One way to improve this mental issue is to interact with close friends other than your family and maybe even to meet new people. Of course, lockdown restricts such activities.
Fortunately, there is another thing that can help. Maintaining a routine can positively impact one's mental and physical health. But, this requires being undeterred and sustaining a level of determination, which is unfortunately difficult to achieve for many.
So, action needs to be taken to ensure that the mental and physical health of students is not severely impacted. The first step is maintaining face-to-face learning as much as possible — which for me means Melbourne staying out of lockdown.
Tanay Toshniwal is a 14-year-old student in Year 9 at Wesley College, Melbourne.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.