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The challenges students faced with learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 and Education

The world was hit by the corona virus in December 2019 and has since then affected the livelihood of many people, claimed lives and has altered our daily activities. This pandemic brought about unprecedented consequences globally and in all sectors of development which largely involved education. Schools had to be shut down, academic work was interrupted and for a period of time, students were thrown into a dilemma as to whether they were to continue their academic work or have it postponed until further notice. To some, it was a relief but for others, it was quite unpleasant
but they had no choice. Irrespective of the measures put in place to ensure the continuity of education ̧ the lack of computer skills on both the students and the lecturers/teachers, unavailability of internet facilities amongst others really affected learning, thereby putting some students in a serious dilemma. The trailing of courses was but some of the challenges these future leaders encountered in the quest to complete their academic work.

To ensure continuity of academic work, ‘E-learning’ was introduced and as a result, majority of resources were accessible online. A number of institutions did well to provide their students with subsidized data bundles on all networks to access the internet. Despite the efforts made by the institutions to provide their students with this opportunity, some students were still unable to partake in the virtual classes due to the poor internet connection in their vicinities. Others who could not afford it had to rely on their parents and this added to their expenses.

Studies have shown that, in learning, one requires a conducive environment devoid of distractions to get a good understanding. However, there were too many interruptions and distractions that affected learning during the COVID-19 compulsory online classes as students shared their learning times with other activities in the home. For instance, a student doubling as an elder sibling and living with siblings whom could not fully take care of themselves, would intermittently log out of a class session to ensure that her younger siblings were catered for or solve a situation that unfortunately emerged during a class period and was largely unavoidable. Others who had to help the family in terms of selling or supporting a family business venture were not able to partake in the online classes. This nature of studying discouraged some students from continuing their classes and in worst cases, had to miss class as compared to a non virtual class session.

Peer group motivation is encouraged in school settings as students are usually surrounded by intellectuals and inspired by other student’s achievements. This atmosphere created in schools encourage students to put in their best in attaining academic excellence and other social activities provided by the school to improve the wellbeing of the student. However, the closure of schools meant the absence of the physical interactions between students. This was because, some students were too comfortable at home and showed a lackadaisical attitude towards academic activities since there was no competition to keep them on their toes and there was little to no zeal in getting things done. This led to poor academic performances, which should not have been the case.

Time plays an important role in teaching and learning. In that, the rate of teaching should correspond to the level of understanding of the individual student. However, the time allocated for the course study was not proportional to the syllabus content during the online sessions of classes. Comparing that to a non-virtual class where academic timetable were evenly spread over ample time, but the online sessions were scheduled close to each other with little to no breaks in between them.

Fatigue sets in and students had to struggle to cope along through the lessons and in addition, finish up assignments within the shortest period of time before the next class. Although it looked good to get the students busy, some students crumbled under the pressure, leading to depression. This made it difficult for the students to assimilate and in turn affected their academic performance. School is not only aimed at developing the intellectual capabilities of individuals also the ability to interact with each other forms a good platform for building networks, growing lasting friendships and supporting each other in diverse ways. The pandemic however, affected this part of life as students were confined to their various homes.

Although online lessons presented a ‘pseudo’ class environment, it could not replace the physical interactions should students have been in school. This is because some students were able to study more effectively with their peers by forming study groups. Hence, during the lockdown, they struggled to study and enjoy most of the courses they registered for and perform woefully.

Communication is an essential part of learning. For example, asking for help from teachers and students alike and partaking in group discussions are equally effective ways of learning. Students are able to relate more easily and freely with their course or subject instructors. As the instructor goes about explaining the topic, these students can easily draw the attention of the instructor to go over it again and even after class they can quickly ask for clarifications from the instructor on anything to get a clear understanding of what they could not grasp during class hours. Online classes did not afford this luxury as class times were fixed and personal interaction with the instructor were reduced to a bare minimum. The online class though a good alternative to the non-virtual classes, came with a lot of inconveniences. For instance, zoom allows only 100 participants per meeting with a time limit of 45 minutes. This affected large sized classes since it was quite difficult to get every student on board and also posed a challenge to some instructors since they also had to take the class two or three times. This however, made it difficult for them to have much
time for their students as compared to a non-virtual class.

The use of technological devices like phones, Laptops, tablets amongst others are very critical in these times following the ban on public gatherings which includes the shutting down of schools. ‘E-learning’ would only be effective when students have these devices and good access to the internet. However, some students do not have access to these technological devices and this posed a challenge to them in participating in online classes as well as their final examinations. As a result of this, most students have to defer their courses or repeat their classes upon the reopening of schools.

Overall, virtual classes were implemented to ensure the continuity of academic work, however it came with the aforementioned challenges which brought about tremendous effects on students and learning. In spite of these challenges, the overall outcome of ‘E-learning’ served its purpose as students were able to complete the academic work for the academic year. The unexpected emergence of the pandemic highlighted the fact that as a nation, there is the need for advancement in the use of technology to make learning better.

This article was written by Martha Akle, Ewura-Esi Manful, Daisy Awuku-Asante and Joyceline Amanimaa Kwarko and was coordinated by Dr Abiola Isawumi of the Molecular Biology unit at West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), University of Ghana. The Molecular Biology Unit is led and managed by Dr Lydia Mosi and Dr Theresa Gwira, both are Senior Lecturers at the University of Ghana"


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