The way education in Ontario is delivered has flipped on its axis since the COVID-19 outbreak last year — a pandemic with no real end in sight — by making virtual classrooms a new norm.
It hasn’t been a smooth transition for students or teachers in this unfamiliar territory of learning. It has left 2020 GTA high school graduates such as 18-year-old Raquel Santos without key milestones in her school experience, such as attending prom or her graduation.
They were events she anticipated for more than a year before her class was caught in the first wave of the virus.
Online learning has brought some pros and cons, affecting each student differently. Some students say they can work at their own pace, on a more flexible schedule. Others say they miss their interaction with friends.
Grade 9 student Salvatore Cairone of Cardinal Carter Catholic High School in Aurora said the flexibility “helped alleviate some of the pressure” transitioning from middle school to high school.
Nicholas DeGiorgio, a Grade 7 student at Villanova College in King City, said he has more time to be physically active when he’s not in class and enjoys those options.
Cairone’s younger sister, Giulia, a Grade 6 student at Father Frederick McGinn Catholic elementary school in Richmond Hill, said she feels comfortable within her home. She prefers staying in her pajamas and not having to wear masks every day. Where most students feel trapped at school with minimal flexibility or freedom, learning online can help these students be at ease.
But Guilia said being at home doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected her.
“Mentally I would say I feel frustrated, drained, bored and stressed more than I was at school,” she said. “At some points I feel down. On the other hand sometimes I have so much energy bottled up.
“My routine has changed in a way where it’s a lot less exciting to get up in the morning. Sometimes I feel like I could just skip school and stay in bed,” Guilia said.
The three students said the shift in their routines is distracting and losing social interaction and in-class engagement makes it easy to drift off or lose interest in what they’re learning.
The constant changes or inconsistent routine results in distractions. They also said they experienced some loneliness and miss the daily interaction with their friends.
“Hanging out with my friends gives me an escape from everything else and not having that has been very hard,” Salvatore Cairone said.
DeGiorgio said social interaction and being around people during school helps him learn better and boosts his confidence.
Not being around classmates or in a classroom environment influences the way students process information and affects their ambition to attend online classes, said Amanda Boyd, a resource consultant who has worked with elementary students before and during the online classroom era.
Boyd said the longer online classrooms continue, the more it’ll affect students who need the social and physical aspects of school to develop them as they grow. She said she believes social interaction is even more essential for children with neurological issues as it could be almost impossible for them to learn virtually since they need extra attention.
DeGiorgio said he prefers reduced class times while Salvatore Cairone said he would like online sessions to be like a classroom rather than seem like a meeting.
Meanwhile, Giulia Cairone said she wants teachers to avoid overloading her class with work. She wants the teachers to talk to the students more and make sure they’re not struggling.
“It would be nice if everything wasn’t as serious and the classroom could be more uplifting so it could project onto everyone and help us learn better,” she said.
Boyd said she’s impressed with the way teachers handled online learning, saying it is a difficult transition from a classroom, and are doing the best they can with what they’re given under the circumstances.
She said many children adapted quickly and “they rose to the occasion.
“At the end of the day all children learn differently with different needs but overall, it’s just not the real thing (classroom),” Boyd said.