On this page:
- What do students and parents think about this completely new situation?
- Switching to the new system
- How things are working now
- Our Kids recommends
What do students and parents think about this completely new situation?
To learn about their experiences and opinions, we had a number of conversations, first with students of all ages and from different schools, and then—also separately—with their parents.
Let's start with the students. In a separate article, you can hear what parents had to say.
My youngest interviewees were primary school students (Grade 5), and the oldest were high school graduates. We also spoke with students from the eighth grade:this is also a sensitive moment in education, when they graduate from elementary school and have their leaving exam. We spoke with both private school students who study in classes ranging from 18 to 21 kids.
Switching to the new system
In some cases, switching to the new system took several days, in others about a week. The initial chaos in some schools, attempts to set up the platform, etc., was short and well-controlled. In some schools, teachers decided for a short time how to communicate with students (Skype, Zoom), some emailed assignments or used Librus, but a clear work system quickly appeared. Some schools use Zoom, but most schools work on Microsoft Teams, which is very highly rated by all students using it. They emphasize its advantages: everything is organized and in one place, there is a clear calendar, tabs with tasks, items, etc.
How things are working now
In all private schools where these students go, the learning takes place interactively—students meet with teachers during "face-to-face" lessons. This is different than in many public schools, where teachers send assignments and students send them back after completion.
Some schools have maintained their school timetable almost completely.
There are, of course, some necessary modifications. Lessons are usually shortened and sometimes some subjects are missing. Breaks are also extended.
Interestingly, physical education classes even take place in many schools. Teachers perform exercises, many focusing on ergonomics, advising how students should sit properly, etc. Classes are interesting: "Today one person is warming up, the next day another. We have to appear in a lesson in attire and have live cams turned on. We in high school understand that you have to move, so we go to these lessons, "says Antoś, a high school student.
Cameras are not mandatory, because there are students who do not have a laptop with a built-in camera. This is a problem that interferes with some forms of work (more on this below), but there is no other way out.
Exam and class tests are a bit difficult, and teachers have to give grades. In some schools, most tests are postponed until the return to normality, which worries some students (how we will manage, how suddenly we will be overwhelmed with so many tests, etc.). Presentations and various assignments are used more often as a basis for assessing, because there are no logistical problems.
I asked students what positives they see in the current situation.
We have more time, everybody told me. You don't have to commute, and in some cases commuting takes up to 1.5 hours a day (even in elementary schools, because there is no regionalization in private school). You can sleep longer and there is time for other things. "I get up sometimes, literally 10 minutes before the start of the lesson, and normally I had to wake up at 6 to get to school on time. It makes a huge difference. I have all this free time to do what I want," Kuba, a high school student who lives near Warsaw said. He emphasizes this aspect as the main plus of the current system.
- Other, new activities
Some children started to deal with completely new things—one boy makes funny videos about his dog, alters his voice, and thus learned a new video editing program. One student said: "My parents started baking bread and somehow it happened that I gladly joined in. Now we do it every weekend and every week using a different recipe." Also, you can go to the balcony or the garden during the lesson.
- School restrictions
The various school restrictions have disappeared—you don’t have to wear uniforms, there’s no prohibition on using phones, which there normally is in many schools. You can dress freely. When someone wants to drink something or go out for a moment, they can turn off the microphone and ... ready. "In lessons, sometimes I'm in pajama pants, I just put something upstairs," laughs Szymek, eighth grade. Mikołaj has no webcam and says, asking not to give his real name: "Sometimes in class I am in bed, with a laptop on my lap. Nobody knows ..."
- New and interesting possibilities
Students very much praise the interesting solutions that some schools use. In one of them there is a so-called good night—anyone can join in a group session where they talk about everything: life, movies, books, telling jokes, singing songs. It's a time to breathe, a participant in such a meeting tells me. "For this, I’m very grateful to the school because it really improves our mood. In the evening it calms us down."
Another school organizes thematic meetings for volunteers and everyone can present something or share their stories. "We have different photos from the holiday, if someone paints or sculpts. We can put photos and videos on the platform and talk about it. Some people make funny animated videos. It's time for us to relax and see our friends online," says Agnieszka.
Not everything is rosy. There are also aspects of situations that students don't like and that make their lives difficult.
- Not seeing friends in person
Lack of direct contact with peers is the biggest minus for all the kids. They keep in touch with them, of course, after classes—by phone, on computers, but they’re often tired after hours of sitting in the "school" during lessons on Zoom or Teams. The younger would like to run, go crazy during the break, the older ones go on a trip together, wander around the city, or meet someone at home. There is no school buzz during breaks, group dynamics, interaction with more than one teacher at a time. One boy sometimes feels alone. "Our social life is less intensive, because there's no other option than a computer or a telephone, and after so many hours at school I have enough electronics. I would love to just meet my friends in person. Not all parents agree to meet us outside, even at a great distance," says Majka, a high school graduate.
- Technical problems
Although most teachers deal with the technical aspects of teaching remotely very well, there are exceptions, which means that some lessons or classes are of lower quality than others, and sometimes even worse than in a regular school.
There are also objective technical difficulties—reverberation, poor quality of links—which affects the quality of the lessons themselves. "Not everyone can always log in. Sometimes, something crashes. After a whole day, my head hurts, and my eyes almost always hurt," complains Kuba.
- Relaxation and not everything is fair
Because cameras aren’t compulsory, some students are not visible, so they actually don’t take part in all the lessons. Sometimes it’s enough to say at the beginning that you are present and you can do what you want.
A lot depends on the teacher if he can think of a way to enforce the presence or performance of a task and some have their own ways. "Since we were to learn a poem by heart, we had to face the window with our hands up so that you could see that we are definitely speaking from memory," says Filip.
- Assessing the student's work
It’s difficult to conduct tests and assignments on the basis of which the grades are issued: how to be sure that the student will not check the answer online or on the phone, or even in notes? Sometimes teachers have to look straight at the screen and answer the question quickly, but it works only in some situations (e.g., capitals of countries from geography), and in others (e.g., solving problems with mathematical calculations) not.
Some students say that high grades from these classrooms do not reflect the actual state of knowledge and this is not fair to them. "I don't know how these grades will be treated afterwards—it worries us a little; will it be fair? And when we get back to school and suddenly the teachers start to push us? What then?" Agata tries to imagine returning to a normal situation.
- Screen time
Interestingly, even the youngest of my interviewees admit they spend too much time in front of screens. They are tired, because social contacts must also take place this way. Until recently, underage Poles could not leave the house alone and this was a great difficulty. They remember it very sadly, especially children and those whose parents work from home. "My sister is 20 years old, but she works and has no time, and my parents have very demanding jobs, so it was rare to find time to leave. Now it's much better: I get out on the bike, I run sometimes," says Alesander.
- Extracurricular activities
For many students, extracurricular activities are very important—they realize their passions, develop their interests, but also make new friends, and meet new teachers. The lack of these activities is painfully felt, and what they have in return must be done with the help of a computer, just like teaching.
During the ordinary school year, many schools organize trips for their students (e.g., for green schools). This is no longer the case which causes a lot of sadness for many children. Some schools, however, made sure that students had at least a substitute for these trips —they watch photos and videos together, get links to various websites on the network, where they can take virtual trips, visit museums, and even watch theatre performances. It's not the same, because you can't be there with friends, but students appreciate that someone is thinking about it. "We have a great biology lady—she has always been a little different, but now we have a lot of links from her, interesting movies, she is incredibly creative. We admire her for these ideas and the time she has to spend on it. Certainly she works a lot more than when the school works normally," says Robert.
- Problems with self-discipline
Some people admit that it is harder to concentrate, mobilize, and sit in front of the screen at home. There aren’t always perfect conditions around—silence needed for learning and no other stimuli. It's easier to focus in the classroom, many students said. Online learning is also quite monotonous, even if teachers try hard. The breaks are longer—sometimes they even last an hour, but it’s easy to waste this time, some say.
In some schools, teachers talk to students about this and give advice. In one of the schools, these are group conversations. "We meet without cams, because not everyone feels comfortable in this situation, but it helps. Much of our teachers’ advice has been useful to us to organize better", admits Robert. "My mother is a very disciplined person, so she shows me various tricks and ways," says Ola.
The young students emphasize that schools are interested in how they’re doing and how they feel. They take care of them and offer help. In several schools, the school psychologist sends recommendations on what to do "so as not to go crazy" and is available if the children have questions or just want to talk. Relaxation techniques are recommended, as well as exercises.
Some teachers, as several students told me, are fully dedicated to their students—you can write to them by email and call, even in the evening. "Every day we get cheerful emails or messages with funny drawings or videos. You can't not laugh, even when you are in a bad mood," says Ola.
Lessons learned from COVID-19 times
When asked if they would like education to look like this for a long time, everyone said no. But this doesn’t mean they haven’t learned anything from this experience. Here are some lessons from the time of the pandemic:
- They got to know many teachers better, appreciated their enormous effort and passion. It turned out that some teachers can be extremely creative and inventive, while others, even older ones and those with less experience with modern technology, make great efforts with good results.
- They learned the unknown secrets of computers, many new platforms and programs, which will be useful for the future . Before, they wrote on Word, for example, but they did not know Zoom or Teams. They learned how to search for information, they navigate the virtual space much more efficiently and confidently.
- Younger students point out that the situation forced them to show much greater independence and self-discipline than usual.
- Microsoft Teams is so convenient and so helps to organize that many students would like it to be used in normal school work.
- Electronic devices can be tiring and although parents could not pull them away from computers, now children are happy to do something "non-electronic."
- Walking with parents or older siblings can be an attraction. "I never thought that I would happily wait for a walk with my mom and dad,” laughs Julka.
It’s clear from our interviews that the students have found their place in the new reality and, despite some challenging aspects of it, assess their experiences positively.
They can see from their accounts that less traditional programs, often used in private schools, focusing on students' independence in real terms, departing from the traditional model of a teacher standing at the blackboard and transferring knowledge, do the best in these difficult times. They’ve prepared children for independent work. This is a good lesson for the future—also for "normal" times.
As we wrote in the article about schools, one of the features of private schools that make teaching in COVID-19 times go smoothly, are small groups, which greatly facilitate work at a distance and in a technical sense, and because teachers know their students perfectly that they have strong bonds and that close cooperation, care, and mutual respect are possible.
Private schools, taking care of the level and quality of teaching, put a lot of emphasis on interpersonal relationships and community building. They pay great attention to ensuring that students do not feel left alone. That is why, apart from technological advancement and quality of teaching, it is precisely because they focus on interpersonal relationships that their students' experiences in this difficult period are so positive.
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