Who would have thought that, in the span of a year, our lives would be changed so drastically? Things that were part of our everyday lives before now seem daunting as we are faced with the anxiety of catching the virus. The virus I am talking about is, of course, Covid-19, which has greatly impacted economies, businesses, how we live our lives and especially, education. In March 2020, we saw the lockdown as a relief for not having to go to school or university. But as the months went by, we grew wearier of this new way of life. As students and teachers struggle to find balance in this new method of teaching, the young generation is also faced with an almost non-existent social life. What pains me even more is seeing my younger siblings spend their most energetic years locked inside, with no one to talk to and barely able to make new friends.
Classrooms are a large part of our childhood. I would say, from our very first memories to when we reach adulthood, we spend most of our days in classrooms with teachers and friends. Here, we not only learn the basic subjects like science and language, but we also learn essential social skills that could not be taught at home. However, amidst the pandemic, children have no choice but to interact with their classmates through a screen. With no face-to-face interactions, they struggle to make new friends in their class and are only left with the ones they talked to before online classes started. When I asked my 10-year-old nephew how he keeps contact with his friends, he mentions that they only talk through occasional Messenger calls. He is an only child so the greater part of his time is spent with his parents or grandparents. It is important for children this young to be in the company of others their age, whether they try to awkwardly become friends, play together, or even fight. Even with the advancements of social media, I still see a distance growing between children as young as my nephew and their friends as social media can only do so much.
Contrarily, those in their adolescence have made the best that they could out of social media. Teenagers are granted more access to the internet by their parents than younger children. These days they have accounts on every popular social media platform. Other than the well known sites of Facebook and Instagram, platforms like Discord have gained even more popularity among their age group since the start of the pandemic. I regularly use Discord myself, which not only lets me speak to my friends, but allows me to watch movies and listen to music together. I must admit it does not live up to physically spending time with them, but it is still a good alternative in these trying times. Another platform, Tiktok, has gained more users in the past year. Here, you can only post short videos and watch the ones posted by others, who live in the same country. This feature is useful in finding people who share similar interests and opinions, and have been utilized by teenagers to make friends outside of their school. Many users who earned massive popularity on Tiktok in their local communities have become good friends outside of the internet. But, as hard as it is to gauge a person’s true character and intentions in real life, especially as a teenager, it becomes even harder through social media. The screen serves as a cover to hide behind, so it becomes difficult for someone to truly get to know one another, no matter how many similar interests they have.
A less talked about issue is the troubles those students face who graduated high school and started their university life in the middle of a global pandemic. I recall how anxious and stressful I was transitioning from school to university. Even without the worry of being in a pandemic, as well as having some of my school friends in the same university, I still struggled to adjust to this completely different environment. Now, high school graduates have to not only figure out this new chapter in their life, but also this completely new way of learning online. A cousin of mine got admitted to a private university recently and he describes his experience to be strange to say the least. Previously, even though his classmates were just faces on a screen, he still spent his whole school life with them and knew them outside of the internet. He describes an instance where the class was divided into pairs and given an assignment. After a number of failed attempts to get his partner to communicate, they ended up doing their assignment on their own. However, his partner would speak up whenever spoken to by the teacher. He says he understands his classmate not wanting to communicate as he feels odd being in a classroom with these new faceless people and it is uncomfortable making friends this way.
With the decline of social skills, the quality of education has declined too. A sixth grade teacher says it has become increasingly difficult to keep students’ attention in class, as their electronic devices provide a number of distractions. It was easier to control their attention spans in classrooms, but at home there is hardly anyone to monitor them. In some cases, parents do monitor if their child is attending classes properly, but most of the time they are left to their own devices. This issue is prominent in students from all age groups. Even I cannot resist the occasional scroll through my phone while I attend my classes. Many fail to even join their class as well, as their education is taken less and less seriously. This leads to stacks of overdue homework, and eventually declining grades. They struggle to actually learn anything in a home environment that is not fit for learning.
Some might live in the same building or area as their friends, or some might have siblings and cousins closer to their age to spend time with. But, a lonesome life at home has been the case for most in this pandemic. At this point, it has become a strain to constantly keep in touch with the people I used to see everyday. No matter how close social media can bring people, it does not come close to physically being in the company of others. For the sake of our youngest generation, I hope they can go back to their previously normal lives of waking up early in the morning and getting ready to go to school. As much as we hated having our sleep disrupted, we can all agree we made some of our fondest memories doing silly things with our friends at school.
Author: Tasnia Naureen
Photo: Tahmid Islam