We can all agree that distance learning was one of the most mentally and physically challenging periods of time that we all went through together as a community. However, during that time we also learned how to cope and create solutions to the problems that we faced.
Whether it was going on a run every 4 hours in order to stay sane or sitting in front of the TV for hours on end, we all managed to get through it. For the younger students at UNIS, this was also a trying time; the lack of outdoor time made it difficult for parents to keep their kids motivated. For the DP students, distance learning proved to be a challenge that took a toll on our mental health and social life.
The stress and isolation created an environment both hostile to learn in and void of social interaction. However, we are living in a world where we have no idea what might happen tomorrow. Every day at school face-to-face is a gift because so many students around the world are still at home and experiencing all the things that we went through last year. Even though we might be at school now, we are never truly sure that this will last for the rest of the school year. Therefore, it is important to remember all the things we did to keep ourselves healthy and motivated.
Grade 12 student, Gaby Chanen, revealed that the most challenging aspect of distance learning was, having to sit in her room working alone every day. “I was not socialising as I would have done at school, and rather than having breaks for other things during the school week, I felt that I spent all of my time working,” Chanen said.
Many other students experienced the same lack of social interaction throughout the distance learning period. However, we all have access to technology that allows us to remotely connect with one another. “To keep up motivation, I made sure to keep in contact with friends and if possible meet with them to do some tasks together,” said Grade 12 student Lauren Holton.
Holton had a different experience from most as she was stuck in the UK during much of the distance learning period. Therefore, her story parallels those of members in the community who are still in the Bridge Program. Lauren was still in distance learning when the campus opened early in May last year which proved to be a challenging and emotional time for her.
Teachers also had a tough time adjusting to a completely new way of teaching their students, without being in a physical classroom. Cynthia Frey, a French teacher at UNIS, revealed the challenges that teachers had to face in order to adjust to the new style of teaching. Creating lessons that would mimic a classroom environment was an entirely new challenge that all teachers had to face. Although Frey has experience working with students through a distance learning program, she expressed that distance learning “generated a lot of anxiety”.
Teachers and students both felt the pressure of succeeding in this new and unfamiliar environment which hindered our ability to maintain a positive attitude. “The biggest challenge was waking up early! I may have missed Homebase once because I slept through my alarm!” Frey said. “More seriously, I missed human interactions and collaborating with my colleagues. Whilst all of it can happen online, it is not nearly as spontaneous and fun.”
During distance learning, it is arguable that last year’s Grade 11s had one of the toughest experiences. The Grade 12s had completed their syllabus, and exams were cancelled; however, the Class of 2021 had to learn new content at home, continue fulfilling CAS requirements and begin writing IAs and EEs. We were on our own for the better part of 3 months which took a toll on some of our grades and confidence in our subjects. We had to navigate and excel in our DP courses while sitting in our bedrooms. Bearing all this in mind, we wanted to offer some advice to the Class of 2022 in case this happens again.
As a senior, I would tell the juniors that they need to work as hard, but also enjoy your time at school in case we have to close campus again. Many people, including myself, realized that we took our experiences and social interactions with friends and teachers for granted. Many seniors would also advise to engage in as many activities and reflections as you can in your CAS portfolio so that in the unfortunate event that we are in distance learning this year, you will have a solid foundation of skills and knowledge in your classes to still succeed in distance learning.
Chanen also offered her advice to the incoming juniors. “I would tell future and current IB students to really manage their time well in distance learning- everyone always says that, but it truly is the most important thing. Schedule your days between work, exercise, social time, and time to just kick back and relax, because balance is super important. If you only manage your work, you’ll over-work yourself, so make sure you’re giving yourself time to heal physically and mentally while still keeping on-track with the school.”
Holton also gave some advice on succeeding and prioritising work. “It is important to remember to use your time effectively,” Holton said. “Don’t spend too long on a task if you find yourself not really progressing, move onto something you can do.”
Balance is one of the most important aspects of maintaining your mental and physical health. Even though much of the advice that we are offering is applicable in all grade levels, Grade 11 is a critical year as you are learning topics that will be covered in a two-year cumulative exam in May 2022.
As we all get used to the new reality we also shouldn’t get too comfortable as we are living in unpredictable times. Every day that we are all able to be together at school is a gift as many schools around the world have not been able to open in session since March. It is important that we learn from our experiences so that we can be better prepared for a potential return to online learning if the situation changes. However, we will be ready to get through it together as a strong community of people who support and look after one another.