In Romania, the lockdown and the restrictions protocol caused by the virus Covid-19 that lasted for about two years have finally come to an end. Although this means the end of numerous restrictions like wearing masks, curfews at 8 or 10 pm, the ban of numerous events (concerts, weddings, festivals, etc.), it also means the end of online education in schools and universities.

Photo source: Pixabay

This announcement came as a surprise for students all around the country, as it is very unlikely that every single one of us can attend university courses and seminars in person in this little time. Taking into consideration that the semester is over in less than 3 months, the students have to find a place to live in just a couple of weeks and many of them have jobs they now have to quit, the decision seems unfair to all the people who find themselves in this situation.

The effects of online schooling

We, as students, are going back to school in person after two years of learning in front of a screen. The question is: how is this affecting us on a mental level and what are the marks that online schooling has left on our brains?

After having an open conversation with friends and colleagues who are studying at different universities in Cluj-Napoca, what follows are a few of the critical issues that are affecting the students in the process of returning to school.

Students’ struggle with social anxiety

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Alexandra Samoilă is a second-year student of  Digital Media within the Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication Sciences from Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She chose to share with us her struggle with social anxiety and the differences she noticed in her behavior when interacting with others. “I would call myself a very talkative person. I used to enjoy anything that involved having to interact with others. I knew how to talk to people; it came naturally. Even though, for me, it may have seemed like an easy thing to do, for many, it felt like a chore. I considered myself an extrovert, for sure, always down to meeting new people, always down for new experiences.” she said.

Alexandra Samoilă, second year student of Digital Media; Photo source: Instagram Alexandra Samoilă

Everything changed for Alexandra once she was deprived of a big part of her old life. She spent her last year of high school and first year of college in front of a screen, without a chance to say goodbye to her old colleagues and to build friendships with her new ones. “I’m just not the same person I used to be. I find it extremely difficult to make new friends nowadays. Social gatherings feel more like a task than what it used to be, an enjoyable experience. I feel like I don’t fit in with my colleagues. Meeting new people has never been this difficult. I spent so much time being disconnected from this really bubbly, sociable, extroverted part of myself that now, I can’t tap into it again. For me, being back in school has been a whole challenge. I am in the process of getting my old self back, but I think it’s going to take a while for my brain to readapt.” Online schooling has rewired our brain in a way that is very harmful for our social lives. Spending so much time hiding behind a screen, where you present yourself on your own terms has made us fear showing up in the real world. We made a habit of turning on the microphone and the camera only when we felt like being heard or seen and we began to use our computers as shields, protecting us from real, human connection.

Low capacity of retaining information and loss of motivation

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Dragoș Pop is a first-year student, studying Automotive Engineering at the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca (TUCN), Romania and he has a concern that many of us can relate to: “I forgot how to learn”. Although TUCN decided to bring the students to school in the hybrid system from September 2021 (only the seminars and labs required physical attendance, the courses were conducted online), Dragos has still not been able to get adjusted to the original system that was reinforced since the 14th of March 2022 (all courses, seminars, and labs in person). “I find myself struggling with this issue ever since I’ve gotten back to school. I have trouble memorizing my lectures; therefore, I barely keep up with the demands of the faculty.”

Dragos Pop, first-year student of Automotive Engineering; Photo source: Instagram Dragos Pop

Dragoș believes that we should not overlook the effects online learning had on our capacity of retaining information. “Think of it this way: you are in front of your laptop and any information you can possibly look for is laying right in front of you, just a click away. Why would you bother memorizing anything anymore? Sometimes we choose convenience and take the easy way out. How are we expected to know how to learn anymore, when any answer has been at a tap of the keyboard away for the last two years?” Although he used to consider himself a diligent student, somewhere along the way, he lost his motivation. “Given the choice of my higher education, being an engineer requires a high capacity of retaining information. That is something that online school has taken away from me.”

the consequences of a Disorganized schedules and loss of attention span

Daiana Soporan is studying Economics and Business Administration in German in the first year at Faculty of Economics and Business Administration from Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is also practicing traditional dance at the local folk ensemble for students, from Cluj-Napoca called “Mărțișorul”. Daiana used to have a very tight schedule to be able to complete all of her tasks everyday (online classes, studying, dance practice, time for herself) and she never turned away from it. After returning to school, she finds it really difficult to fit all of these activities into her everyday routine. “Before physically coming back to school, I had all of my activities organized based on my online courses and seminars. In between classes, I used to be able to complete some of my homework or assignments, sometimes have a meal, maybe even take a little nap. Now, the breaks are not long enough to allow me to get back to the dorms, do something productive and get back to the faculty in time for the next class. Basically, we’re just supposed to kill time. I leave my dorm early in the morning and get back late in the afternoon. Every day is a never-ending walk from the dorm to the faculty and vice versa. This new schedule has really messed up the time that used to be assigned for dancing. Lately, I could not even make time for my passion. Also, I have noticed that my attention span is down to 0 nowadays. I can hardly focus on a task for more than 10 minutes before getting distracted. Being in online schooling for so long, I’ve always found something to do during lectures. Sometimes I would do some homework, I would cook, clean, just anything around the house really. I was proud of my time management skills because I would get things done, while also learning. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that, although I was being productive, it also affected my capacity of concentration and my attention span significantly.”

Daiana Soporan, first-year student of Economics and Business Administration in German; Photo source: Facebook Daiana Soporan

a professional’s opinion on the subject

In order to get a better understanding of the subject, I contacted Bianca Huban, psychology professor and school counselor at Colegiul Național „Mihai Viteazul”, Turda. She states that “The learning activities have been highly impacted by the pandemic: classes being taught online meant a higher informational content because of the possibilities that educational platforms have to offer. It also meant that the evaluations of the students were carried out in an oral manner, rather than in written format due to the lack of a secure, standardized way of evaluation.” Bianca Huban continues: “The conditions that the pandemic enforced have called for an adaptation process from both the students and the teachers. The move from classrooms to students’ homes was challenging, at first. Once everyone adapted to these conditions, things started to change. The ones with a well-defined interest in school did not give up their involvement and chose to spend this extra time focusing on their favorite school subjects. On the other hand, the ones who were not so oriented towards the activities that school has to offer lost their attention and motivation. This led to lower involvement in online classes, poor attendance, and a decrease in their capacity of learning.”

Photo source: Pexels

She then proceeded to speak on the situation that the physical return in schools has created: “Coming back to school was a reason for joy, the joy of seeing your classmates and professors live, and not just through a computer screen. It also implies going back to rigorous school activity, defined by rules and tasks. The fulfilment of those tasks requires a strict study program, high capacity of retaining information and a high attention span, skills that most of the students have partially lost in the conditions of online schooling. Thereby, the first weeks of going back to school in person were tiring for most of the students, especially for the ones who were not that involved in the online activities. Among the students, there could be noticed an obvious decrease in attention and memory skills. The number of people with emotional issues, fears about future evaluations and social anxiety has considerably increased. The most affected students were the ones who used to connect with others exclusively on social platforms.”

She also told us her opinion on fixing the situation that has been created by online schooling: “There is a remedy for these issues that today’s school system faces: school tasks adapted to students’ level of knowledge, followed by a gradual increase in difficulty and the recognition of their accomplishments. The professors should be patient and start with easy communication and relation exercises for students to be able to get in touch again with their almost lost social skills.”

1 Comments

  1. Excellent article that captures the essence of the student body and a professional’s point of view. I would like to have heard back from a teacher or the management of the school to get the entire 360 perspective. Once again excellent article

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