The unprecedented emergency of a worldwide outbreak called for many unexpected and sudden changes. While the work culture shifted online, the education sector shifted online as well. The colleges and the campuses were not prepared for such prolonged closures. The
students as well as the campuses had different challenges going forward. On one hand, where we consider Gen Z as the generation who is proactive with technology and was enjoying the entire experience of having schooling and colleges from home, it also leads to a lot of fear,
stress and anxiety.
The students in grade 10 and 12 have been dealing with the stress of the exam whereas there has been another side to the coin – that of the undergraduates and postgraduates. These students were already a vulnerable group in regard to mental health. Surveys have shown a
massive surge in stress and anxiety among students. For many, pandemic concerns revolve less around getting sick and more around the loss of grade points, college credits, and income.
While the world was going through a pandemic, the students had to worry about completing their research, planning their future, in terms of would they be able to graduate this year or be able to seek a job based on the skills they had learnt in this entire year of online education. On conversing with the undergraduates and postgraduates, they shared that they felt anxious and confused at the same time, they felt robbed of the last year of their college life, at the same time they feel unsure of what they have learnt online and would be enough to practice in the field. Some had plans to go abroad for international studies, some couldn’t wait to be financially independent, but with this feeling of uncertainty, they are confused about the direction their life is heading towards and at the same time trying to stay hopeful in order to achieve the goals.
The students have been looking for a collective solution that would help them feel competent and also achieve the aim they set for themselves. A recent qualitative study was done by Chad E. Kee (2021) titled ‘The impact of COVID-19: Graduate students’ emotional and psychological experiences’, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment identified 5 main themes.
The five main themes identified were:
1) Accepting Virtual Learning and Teaching,
2) Managing Disappointment,
3) Experiencing Loss of Power and Control,
4) Managing Feelings of Anxiety and Fear, and
5) Incorporating Coping Strategies and Seeking Relief.
The conventional way of teaching,i.e face to face class meetings were the primary form of instruction for colleges. Many students shared that they preferred face to face education as compared to online as it was optimal for learning and being able to interact with peers, organize themselves, and enhance learning through class discussions. Many students also shared that they were able to retain information better in a physical setting.
They also expressed that they went through the stages of acceptance: which included disbelief, anger, frustration, and disappointment. Which happened because they would be missing out on their graduation which was a huge accomplishment. The students felt like this
virtual world made it easier to access education and keep it going but the work-life balance ended up becoming work-life integration which made it harder to compartmentalize work obligations, learning assignments, family responsibilities, and activities that support personal well-being. The students also expressed that the uncertainty and fear were heightened due to the lack of awareness about how their life would be post-pandemic The anxiety heightened further when they had no idea about how their life would be financially after they completed their education.
The students shared that eventually what helped them cope with this situation and take care of themselves was Structuring time and space to accommodate work and classes, Consistent communication with other students, focusing on one activity at a time. Additionally, for all
the students and every person out there, some strategies that could be beneficial would be having a structured to-do list which could include something as easy as waking up, getting out of bed etc, taking time to relax and indulge in something that makes you feel positive and happy, using positive affirmations, having a gratitude journal, talking to a friend or staying away from social media whatever works better for you. Even though this is a peak time of uncertainty, you can always find solace in knowing that you are not alone in this and you
have people with whom you can share this experience with.