Student Well-Being when Learning Online

Student Voice Matters 2021 (Part 2)

In part 1 of Student Voice matters, we looked into our students’ learning experience through the pandemic, highlighting key challenges and positives of learning online.

In part 2, we explore the effects of the pandemic on their well-being, and how we as educators can support them through the mental & emotional challenges of recurring school closures.

1. Students have mixed feelings towards their overall learning experience.

Online learning makes learning faster such that we can cover our syllabus quick but then there are things which are complicated and hard to ask while offline and the teachers also cannot see our confused faces that she always move onto the next part…” — 17 year-old female student from Kuala Lumpur

Suasana di dalam rumah yang huru — hara. Terasa seperti tidak ada aktiviti yang hendak dilakukan selepas bangun walaupun ada kelas talian” — 17 year-old female student from Sarawak

“Things that make my experience online learning 3/10 is the feeling of hopelessness doing it. It also felt like it never improved my learning moment instead just made it harder for me to focus and study. This by far no means, saying that teachers are in the wrong as it is my own self that felt this way. But I would love for a better way to make this online learning benefit me more as a student.” — 16 year-old male student from Sarawak

Key Findings:

  • The overall sentiment from students towards their learning is generally mixed, with ~39% of students indicating mixed feelings about their overall learning experience compared to ~31% & ~23% who indicate positive and negative responses only.
  • Majority of students report a sense of trust, with ~44% of students indicating that they feel calm & safe towards their overall learning experience.
  • A similar number of students (between 35–38%) selected that they feel joyful & positive, nervous & scared, excited & ready, and frustrated & bored about their learning.
  • For students who indicate that they feel lonely & helpless, 60% of them also note a decline in their mental health since switching to online learning.

2. 1 in 3 students are spending more than 8 hours on electronic devices daily. Those who spend more time on devices tend to rate their learning experience lower.

“…I find it easier to discuss certain topics offline, and online learning is very energy draining, sitting in front of a screen all day.” — 17 year-old female student from Selangor

“…Mata (saya) lebih penat kerana screen time yang kerap dan lama setiap hari.” — 17 year-old male student from Selangor

“First of all, it is hard for us students to focus on the screen which is really tiring for our eyes…. Frankly speaking, sometimes we can do whatever we want behind the screen whenever we are muted and the camera is turned off.” — 16 year-old female student from Penang

Key Findings:

  • 1 in 3 students (~34%) indicate that they spend more than 8 hours on their devices daily compared to only <5% who spend between 0–2 hours on devices. 84% of students who spend more than 8 hours also indicate that they enjoy watching TV/ streams/ videos and playing video games in their free time.
  • There is also a correlation between the average learning experiences of students and the number of hours spent on devices. Students who spend more time on devices tend to rate their online learning experiences lower.
  • Many students note that learning online through the pandemic has increased their screen time significantly, with some mentioning increased strain on their eyes.

3. 2 in 5 students indicate a decline in either their physical, mental or emotional health since the switch to online learning.

“Be more understanding towards students. Some of us face mental health issues, don’t come from a stable household, face technical and financial issues, lack personal space, etc. Many students don’t have the luxury of being able to devote all their time to studying and online school.— 17 year-old female student from Selangor

“Saya memilih kaedah belajar tersebut (a combination of online & offline) kerana ia perlu mempertimbangkan kesihatan mental dan fizikal murid. Apabila murid dalam keadaan yang tidak stabil… mereka akan mengalami masalah mental akibat jangkaan guru atau ibu bapa yang berlebihan.” — 14 year-old female student from Sarawak

“Harapan saya ialah memberikan kami pelajar banyak sokongan dari segi mental agar terus dapat menguatkan diri kami untuk menghadapi ujian dari segi akademik…” — 17 year-old female student from Sabah

Key Findings:

  • When asked about how schools & teachers can support them through their learning, many students express call-to-actions for more consideration towards better mental health support.
  • Some students attribute their decline in mental health to the increased homework and stress when learning online. This is reflected in a higher proportion of students reporting worsening mental & emotional health as they spend more time on their devices as the increased workload translates to increased screen times. As one respondent notes,

“Regardless of online or offline learning, everyone’s well being and mental health should always come first. With (so much homework), it messes up students’ management skills and the freedom to relax, even on weekends. The teachers are also stressed out by the fact they have to keep up with the syllabus, so they have to give students a lot of homework, even if homework is supposedly for us to ‘learn by ourselves at home’, it doesn’t work anymore due to schooling draining motivation…”

4. Students are most concerned about their exams & schoolwork as a result of unpredictable school closures.

I still have to get myself motivated and always bear in mind that SPM is around the corner. I have no more time to waste. I must learn to manage my time well. On the other hand , I have also seen and heard that SPM 2020 was tough even for those who are well prepared… I am worried that I might face the same situation too.” — 17 year-old female student from Penang

I hope teachers can give us more exercise to improve ourselves. I also hope teacher’s will discuss more about the future (about classes in form 4, universities and jobs) because I’m a little worried…” — 15 year-old female student from Penang

“(rated learning experience 4/10)… kerana saya sibuk nak siapkan tugasan sekolah dan juga tugasan rumah seperti sidai kain, vakum rumah, basuh pinggan dan seumpamanya— 15 year-old male student from Kedah

Key Findings:

  • ~84% of students indicate upcoming exams to be among their main concerns arising from school closures, followed by 65% who are worried about keeping up with schoolwork. This may be due to the uncertainty in teaching schedules and timetables that students experienced when learning online last year.
  • 1 in 5 students also indicate that caring for their families / working with their parents are among their main concerns, showing that some students have additional responsibilities at home on top of their studies.
  • Students indicating ‘Others’ note mental health, worries about their future & self-motivation to learn to be among their concerns.

5. Students are most productive in the late morning.

“(Schools can help by) Adjusting the class schedules better for students to have suitable breaks between classes and not get overwhelmed by non-stop classes from early in the morning to late afternoons….” — 17 year-old female student from Kuala Lumpur

“For daytime, offline classes should be done. Online classes can be done during night time, so both students and teachers don’t necessarily have to prepare themselves to go to class at night. They could just open their laptop or their phone to study at their convenience… “ — 17 year-old female student from Johor

Key Findings:

  • ~30% of students indicate that they feel most productive between 9:00AM and 12:00PM in the morning and ~18% of students prefer to work later at night, between 9:00PM and 12:00AM.
  • More students prefer to learn in the morning rather than the afternoon, and about 1 in 5 students prefer to work later in the night, shown by the decrease in the number of students who feel productive between 12:00PM and 9:00PM.
  • This is consistent in examination students (Form 5 / Year 11), who indicate similar preferences for when they are productive.

Summary

Many students have told us that learning through the pandemic has been challenging. Organisations such as UNICEF Malaysia & MMHA continue to offer resources and support for students struggling with their mental & emotional health.

For Project ID, we continue to conduct online workshops to help students manage their emotions and cope with uncertainties through PID Online. Our OpenLearning course on Building Resilience for the Mind and regularly updated Resource Page provide tools for students to navigate their social and emotional learning online.

As we plan for online classes in the face of extended school closures, how can educators & institutions consider and swiftly incorporate support in mental & emotional health for our students such that we can help them maximise their learning going forwards?

In the third and final part of Student Voice Matters 2021, we explore how students say they want to learn in the future. Stay tuned!