It goes without saying that each and every one of us have struggled in 2020, and some of us have suffered more than others. The people of Ireland, particularly the Irish Government, tend to direct most of their thoughts and concerns towards the older generations of Ireland, particularly the elderly, and rightly so. However, very few people do not stop to think about the youth of Ireland and how they must be feeling, as they are equally going through an incredibly challenging time in their lives. Students were given no other choice but to adapt to college online, not being able to socialise with friends and having most of their freedom stripped away from them. An underlying issue arising from this pandemic is that many students have been desperately suffering with their mental health. Based on a survey conducted by Generation Y, that surveyed over 1,000 respondents, stated that the Covid-19 crisis has affected 77% of students’ mental health. Students have experienced a great sense of loneliness and isolation as well as an increased level of anxiety studying at home.
Here at Oxygen.ie, we care about the lives of students, and so the aim of this article is to focus on the student’s perspective. We ask third-level students a series of questions about how they are feeling with college being online this year, if their college are providing support services, how they feel about their future and whether they feel undervalued or excluded as a young person living in Ireland during the Covid-19 crisis.
Ciarán Healy- Graduate Entry Medicine
We asked first year postgraduate medicine student from UCD, Ciarán Healy, how he is coping with his online college experience. Ciarán believes there has been many advantages and disadvantages to studying at home this year.
“I like being able to work at my own pace/on my own time due to online recorded lectures however the course is quite impersonal and not very engaging as a result”.
One of Ciarán’s biggest challenges that he faces as a first-year medicine student is the inability to socialise and bond with his classmates. He explains how “it is nearly impossible to get to know the people in my year”, and although the UCD Students Union have been organising virtual events for students to interact and communicate with one another, as a student Ciarán thinks that virtual events are not an engaging platform to socialise. He would rather meet his college peers in-person, as it is a more effective and normal way of getting to know someone.
Interestingly, Ciarán believes online learning to be more effective than in-person lectures as he can pause and rewind lecture recordings at whatever pace he likes as well as being able to re-watch lectures at a slower speed (2x), which helps with time efficiency during his revision sessions.
However, along with the majority of college students and their families, Ciarán thinks that college fees should be reduced.
“Those who have lost out on practical components of their learning such as science students, there should be some amount of recompense”.
Ciarán expressed how he is really missing the social aspect of college life, not being able to let off steam and have some fun with his classmates has hindered his engagement and participation with his course and feels very lonely and isolated.
For the majority of students, the structure of their college day has become very repetitive and mundane, resulting in students feeling extremely unmotivated and unwilling to get their assignments and projects done. From Ciarán’s perspective, he struggles to separate home from college. He feels that he is not getting a real break from study, as he spends majority of his time in his bedroom as he is unable to socialise with friends and admits he is not exercising as much as he used to.
Ciarán states that he has been compliant with government guidelines during this crisis and believes that a certain niche of students such as nursing students have been undervalued and have not been taken care of by the Irish Government. Nonetheless, Ciarán feels optimistic about his future both personally and professionally and the first thing he wants to do when everything goes back to normal is to spend quality time with his friends without having to socially distance or wear a mask!
Carla Byrne- Visual Communications
Carla is currently in her last year of college, studying visual communications at TU Dublin Grangegorman. Initially, at the beginning of the college year, Carla enjoyed her lectures being online and found it easier to manage her time with assignments. However, in recent months Carla exclaims that she has lost a lot of motivation and interest in her course.
“My course is very practical it involves sharing work, ideas, concepts, and critiquing but through online classes none of that is available – making it harder to connect with your classmates.”
The very few positives with college being online is that she is saving on time and money commuting to and from college and having the freedom to study from the comfort of her own home. However, Carla’s biggest challenge studying at home is lack of motivation.
“Sitting through online classes and submitting work for feedback is very isolating as there is no human interaction. In class, however, having one-on-one critique and input from lecturers for guidance can really motivate and push you to explore new avenues.”
Carla believes online lectures are not effective and the educational quality of lectures has decreased. She refers to online classes as being ‘robotic’ and ‘dull’, she continues by revealing that online lectures lack student progression and prevent students from expressing their own ideas.
Carla further admits that TU Dublin’s Students Union have not organised any virtual events for their students so far. However, her own class have organised various socially distanced outdoor events to showcase their work and she believes it is a great way of keeping in contact with her friends as well as it being a motivation booster.
“My own class have organised outdoor art gallery exhibitions to showcase our work since the start of lockdown, and to help keep us all involved within each other’s lives and encourage us to continue making work”.
Similarly, Carla strongly believes that college fees should be reduced. As an art student, Carla has not been able to use any of the art facilities provided by her college and is spending her own money on materials that are needed to complete her college assignments.
“I think paying €3,000 is outrageous when we are all just sitting at home receiving very basic feedback for our work and using little to none of the college facilities”.
Carla desperately misses her Friday night drinks with her college friends, as she found it a great way to de-stress from assignments and deadlines at the end of the week. Studying at home has had a negative affect on Carla’s mental health as she feels she is constantly re-living the same day over and over again. Furthermore, she feels a great sense of loneliness being at home and her college experience has become somewhat isolating.
Surprisingly, Carla is not experiencing as much pressure studying at home as she would be in college. However, she believes more pressure should be put on students studying at home as it would increase their motivation levels.
Once again, Carla has been compliant with government guidelines. She is someone who is classed as an essential worker and has been working continuously throughout this pandemic. She finds it difficult to protect herself and her family at home whilst facilitating the essential needs of the public.
As a young person living in Ireland, Carla feels invisible. She thinks it is unfair for primary and secondary schools to remain open while third-level students are suffering at home. Shockingly, Carla predicts that many students will not graduate or will have to repeat this college year due to lack of motivation and mental health struggles from being at home constantly.
Reflecting on this past year, Carla has realised now that she does not want to emigrate.
“This year has showcased the value of family and friends and I will continue to live at home”
The first thing that Carla wants to do when everything goes back to normal is to hug all her friends and family as well as travel the WORLD!
Shauna Dempsey- Criminology & Criminal Justice
Shauna is a postgraduate student undergoing a yearlong master’s in criminology and criminal justice at Maynooth University. Shauna feels that her motivation levels are non-existent with college being online this year. She is finding it exceedingly difficult to motivate herself to do work as well as getting projects completed. Studying at home has increased Shauna’s procrastination levels which brings on a lot of stress and anxiety. However, she believes that one of the advantages to college being online is that her lecturers have been incredibly supportive and are trying their best to make their students feel comfortable in their online lecture as well as getting to know their students on a personal level.
Shauna strongly believes that college fees should be reduced. She does not understand and thinks that it is unfair how students are paying the same price as they would when they were in college last year and had access to all college facilities.
“Maynooth University library is open, but I am not driving to Kildare and there are very few students that can actually use the library because of where they are living. There are a few resources available but not many”.
Shauna feels that she is in a constant state of stress working from home. She feels guilty for taking time out for herself and struggles to designate time to chill out at home or take time out to go on a walk. In terms of mental health, at times Shauna has felt a great sense of loneliness and isolation as she is living out of home and is unable to see family and friends.
The one thing that Shauna’s misses the most about college life is her daily coffee and lunch dates with her college friends on Maynooth campus. She admits the only time she sees her college friends now is when they turn on their cameras in an online lecture.
“It’s a lot harder to have a chat and a laugh together via Zoom, it’s not the same as face-to-face interactions”
On a positive note, Shauna admits that her college have made a great effort to organise virtual events for their students such as college Christmas parties, online bingo nights, Zoom drinks, and book clubs with various prizes up for grabs.
In regard to feeling undervalued as a student living in Ireland, Shauna believes that the Irish Government as well as colleges/universities from the get-go should have reduced college fees and that the needs of students were not brought to the forefront. Shauna also pointed out that a lot of blame has been directed towards students. She agrees that yes there has been college parties documented on social media, however, there has also been plenty of adults hosting and attending parties, so it is easy to point the finger at students for the rise in Covid cases.
“I think some of the blame is validated, I think there is two types of students. There are responsible ones and I think there are irresponsible ones but equally the same goes for adults. There are many older people breaking rules, it is not just students!”
When life goes back to normal, the first thing that Shauna wants to do is to see her friends in the same room at the same time and have a MASSIVE house party with everyone that she loves!