In their own words students share: What remote learning has looked like around the world

How Teens have been reacting, navigating, and adapting to the remote learning experience? They wrote about their experiences this past school year after buildings closed due to the coronavirus. In some places, school was back in session by late spring; elsewhere, campus reopenings were delayed further. Hear from more students at their website, coded and created by student editors.

Learning from home in difficult times

By Magdalena Andjieva, 16, Ilsfeld, Germany

In normal times I would attend the Steinbeis Gemeinschaftschule (Steinbeis Community School) in my hometown, Ilsfeld. But since the school closed on March 16, I’ve been working on my own.

Recently we returned to our school again, but as the situation hasn’t cleared up yet, we don’t attend classes as usual. This means that we go to school only for a few hours then work from home again.

The homeschooling situation during isolation was a bit difficult for me since I had no one to help me out beside my friends who texted with me, and that was difficult in itself. We didn’t have video chats with our teachers very often. We were given homework with only a few instructions, and sometimes not even that.

My parents weren’t able to help me out since we are foreigners and don’t know the language very well. My first language is Macedonian; I came to Germany with my family when I was 13 years old. When we first came here, it was really hard for me since I couldn’t speak the language very well. I was able to understand more. Staying in a foreign country and having to learn the language isn’t as easy as it might seem. You do have a lot of contact with native speakers, but my friends were also foreigners, so we often found ourselves struggling when trying to explain something.

Those were difficult times but I’m sure whoever is going through the same understands me. There are thousands of people around the world struggling. It might seem like you’re alone, but trust me, you aren’t.

In order to do my homework, often I had to ask my classmates for help, or try and do the work on my own using the books we had been given at the beginning of the year.

I can’t say that my academic life has gotten better during isolation. I’ve had many troubles with my homework and mental health. I feel like not being able to go out of the house for more than a week — let alone months — messes with your head. Other than doing homework, all I’ve done was help around the house a bit or stay on my phone, watching videos and catching up with friends. It wasn’t a very interesting time.

I hope the situation gets better and we begin again with school as we normally would.

Diego Garcia, 17, a student at the International School of Toulouse, sits in his room for a portrait at his home in Toulouse, France, on May 14, 2020.
Diego Garcia, 17, at his home in Toulouse, France, on May 14, 2020.

‘What I had hoped for, no?’

By Diego Garcia, 17, Toulouse, France

It was a Thursday in mid-March, and rumors of President Macron’s potentially grandiose speech were swarming in all the lycées [high schools] of France.

There was a climate of apprehension, as though we all knew what the outcome of his speech would be but were too embarrassed to vocalize our joy. Macron announced that evening the closure of all educational facilities. And I couldn’t help but feel a guilty smirk spread across my face. At the time, a slow descent into perennial laziness felt welcome.

“This is what you had hoped for, no?” Mum asked.

My smile vanished, ceding its place to an expression of simple acceptance. It wasn’t long until social media was saturated with jubilant posts and stories celebrating the switch to online learning. Initially, it felt novel. The first day was a breeze. I’d never been so relaxed.

I spent the whole first week of online school euphorically flying through my classes. Sitting all day on my chair and jumping from videoconference to videoconference seemed so exciting and easy. For most classes, I slumped back into my chair while listening to introductory lectures and being dismissed to complete assignments.

But the novelty soon started to wear off. I began to feel the complacency. The buzzing of the videoconference notification became deeply annoying, and I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of frustration every time it peeked out on the side of my screen. I directed my frustrations towards the teacher favorite Microsoft OneNote — a digital portfolio for students to organize their work. At first, I thought it was useful and innovative, but then it became an exercise in online school tyranny. With my reduced, fish-like attention span, I began neglecting to upload my work. I was keeping up with lessons but forgetting to turn in assignments.

Schools in France are slowly returning to in-person learning. At the time I’m writing this, primary students have returned and will be followed by the secondary students. There is a rotation for students to go to school on set days — “Group C” goes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But I’m still at home. It’s not clear if the students in my year will be able to go to in-person classes or not.

Now I feel a cycle of mismatched emotions. When I wake up, there is a sense of anger. At lunch, a feeling of freedom because I can stand up and walk around. During the evening, a sense of relief emerges. But as one day blends into the next, relief is quickly replaced by annoyance again.

It’s not what I had hoped for.

Erika Hornmark, 14, a student at the Hong Kong International School, on April 30, 2020.
Erika Hornmark, 14, on April 30, 2020.

Three boxes waiting by the door

By Erika Hornmark, 14, Hong Kong

My family keeps three boxes of masks by the doorway, above the dusty shoe cabinet that hasn’t been opened in a while. The boxes can be seen in the corners of my Zoom video meetings.

At the beginning of my school year, wearing masks in groups was banned in my hometown of Hong Kong because of their symbolic roles in the Hong Kong protests. Now if I’m seen without one, it’s grounds for upset stares and finger-pointing.

I was on vacation in Bangkok, Thailand, with my family when reports of rising fatalities from the coronavirus began appearing in the news. Social media buzzed with rumors that schools in Hong Kong would close after the Chinese New Year that began Jan. 25.

Two weeks later, I was in front of a computer, watching my biology teacher flip through slides. I lay sideways on my bed, camera and microphone off — just like everyone else in my class. My mother doesn’t believe in studying inside the bedroom, so I don’t have a desk.

Some of my classes have been impressively organized, with teachers updating lesson plans and hosting well-attended video meetings. Others have been lackluster, rarely assigning material with rushed five-minute Zoom conferences only twice a week. I often feel like I’m teaching myself.

Many of the tests I’ve taken have been on simple Google Forms and Schoology, and most worksheets have been taken directly from online sources. It would be easy to cheat, easy to avoid the minimal adult supervision. Many teachers have resorted to cutting out large chunks of the curriculum.

I sometimes feel exhausted by long interactions with my family. But as long as I wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer and stay in groups of four or fewer, I’m allowed to see my local friends in person. I’ve been surprised — as a person who is naturally private and reserved — by my frustration at not being able to see people every day.

I look forward to sitting in a class of 20 once again. I look forward to hearing my classmates debate controversial topics in my humanities class, and sitting with my friends in front of the taco stand in the cafeteria.

I look forward to when there aren’t three boxes of masks by the doorway.

Ifeoluwa Martins (left) and a fellow student use their teacher’s mobile phone to look up lessons from the Nigerian secondary school curriculum.
Ifeoluwa Martins (left) and a fellow student use their teacher’s mobile phone to look up lessons from the Nigerian secondary school curriculum.

Sharing a phone, learning without friends

By Ifeoluwa Martins, 14, Lagos, Nigeria

I am 14 years old. May 1, the day I’m writing this, is my birthday.

In normal times I attend Gaskiya Junior Secondary School in Ajegunle, a neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria. My school closed in late March, around the time we were going on spring break. My school had no distance learning plan, and we have been given no resources.

I study now with Miss Shola Shoroyewun, a community leader who helps five of us with our lessons. We are cousins and siblings living in the same compound.

None of us has a computer or Wi-Fi. So we share Miss Shola’s phone. We are also using a new website called Safleaders. It includes the junior and senior secondary curriculum that we have in school — English language arts, civic education, mathematics, and agricultural science.

Using the website is cool and easy. You can download what you need to read very fast. We just pass the phone from student to student, or one of us will read to the others.

The last assignment we got from Miss Shola was to do a personal narrative. We looked up what was required and then we talked and Miss Shola broke everything down. If I have more questions, I know she can answer them.

I miss my friends, I miss the cooperation between students, I miss the group projects and lessons. I would rather be back in my traditional school. But there are so many students in my classroom that I can’t count them — it feels like 100.

Even though we are in lockdown, I feel happy. My academic life is better now than before. I can focus more on my studies and I have time for my own projects.

My learning space is my bed and when I am not doing schoolwork. I like to read there. The book I am reading now is by Ben Carson, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has says he has family roots in Kenya.

The title is “Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence.”

Eugene Halim, 17, a student at Bina Nusantara Simprug School, sits for a portrait at his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 14, 2020.
Eugene Halim, 17, at his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 14, 2020.

‘Dark times, but I see light’

By Eugene Halim, 17, Jakarta, Indonesia

I could feel the news was coming. But I didn’t want to believe it.

With only a week until opening night, we had been practicing day and night for our school play, hoping for a perfect performance.

Then after a particularly grueling 10-hour Saturday practice, our director told us that the play was canceled. Our cast of 100 people immediately broke down in tears, cries echoing in the dark hall as the musicians put down their instruments. I sat behind my drum kit, my skin stinging with the reality of what was happening.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, the situation in Indonesia has worsened. The number of new cases has increased and unemployment has soared, with no end in sight. Public buildings are closed, concerts canceled, public transport shut down, and our school switched to online instruction.

It took me awhile to adjust to the new system, but I’ve slowly realized that my learning experience has actually improved. Classes have become more efficient; my teachers have spent more time discussing material, instead of taking attendance, and are much easier to contact after school hours. I can re-watch lectures if I don’t understand something. I’ve had enough sleep and a quiet work environment.

I’ve saved a lot of time by not commuting through three or four hours of traffic every day. With more free time, I practice drumming, cook, and play video games. I’ve also had extra time to work on my history research paper.

Still, there are things that I miss. I took the everyday for granted — participating in club activities, spending time with friends, and being able to have face-to-face conversations. I no longer get to see my brother this summer because he’s studying in the United States.

But I keep looking for blessings in disguise. Spending rainy Saturday nights with my parents has brought us closer. With our typically busy routines, I didn’t realize I was missing deeper, personal conversations about our lives, opinions and the future. We’ve recently spent time together building a hydroponic farm, going on family walks, and bingeing our favorite Netflix shows over midnight snacks.

The times feel turbulent, dark and unstable, but I see light in the opportunity to reflect on the little things that really matter.

Mahek Bhora, 17

Hey — What day is it today?

By Mahek Bhora, 17, Fremont, California

The first few weeks were fun. After my school shut its doors, I slept late, woke up late and did my schoolwork at my own pace. But soon, feelings of boredom began creeping in. Now that I’ve been in quarantine for more than three months, life has been turned upside down and inside out. 

My desk used to be my happy place, where I spent most of my time efficiently completing my assignments. Now the lessons I’m learning are about myself, and I’m spending time with family, thinking about the world and the streets beyond my bedroom. 

The day the shelter-in-place order came down, I wrote a list of the things I wanted to accomplish during quarantine, which I assumed would be only a month long. Some of my goals: Get fit by doing YouTube workouts every day. Make new foods. Learn a new language. But none of these stuck with me: I couldn’t even make a change to my own life, much less help others. 

Painfully, I learned that I’m a real person who procrastinates and doesn’t always do what is best. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I lose track of what day it is.

Still, I’ve continued learning, thanks to some of my teachers who weren’t deterred by the pandemic. Their assignments have kept me curious; one of my favorites was when my journalism teacher asked us to write about what initiative meant to us and why it is an important skill to have. My answer: I’m excited when I find a story and I want to share that sense of discovery with others when I write.

But maybe the biggest lesson I’m learning comes with what’s happening outside of my house. I’m a female and person of color, but I’m also straight and I benefit from the model minority myth that people of Asian descent face every day. The past few weeks have been an insane emotional, political, cultural and revolutionary rollercoaster. I may not be able to join the protests as I’d like, but they’re shaping me as a more empathetic and outspoken person, a better citizen of the world.

Leticia Morales Lehn, 18

It’s our nature to need others

Leticia Morales Lehn, 18, Rio Grande, Brazil

I basically spend my entire time studying. 

When school closed in March, I began taking online classes to prepare for the Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio, Brazil’s high school national exam. I have classes at night, and in the morning I study what I learned there and in the afternoon I do exercises in workbooks. I use Discord, an online platform, to study with friends.

Fortunately, I live in a house with a very supportive family. I don’t have any other responsibilities other than studying. Of course, it’s still my duty to clean my room and do the dishes, but it doesn’t keep from my routine. I’m capable of learning by myself with the right orientation. I love being able to make my own schedule. 

I’ve started reading a book called “365 Days that Changed the World.” I talk with my father about it; he knows I’m doing this so I can write better essays, so we discuss it every night. My dad usually answers all my questions in a way that is more interesting than when I look things up online. My aunt is my teacher at school so she grades my essays. My sister compares her answers to mine when we’re doing exercises. I love that I have the economic resources to study like this and a family that cares enough to do it with me. 

I have a desk with my computer right beside my bed. I share a room with my sister, so I get the desk for half of the week and she gets the other half. When I’m not at my desk, I’m probably studying on my bed or at the dinner table. 

I’ve been trying to include more physical exercises and a habit of eating healthy during this period, since I have more time to focus on myself. I’ve also started to knit because it helps with my anxiety. I’m definitely more stressed than before. 

The thing I most miss about from school is being able to talk to my teachers and friends in person. I miss the interaction between the class and the teachers. I miss how we helped each other out. 

It’s our nature to need other people. I guess we just never realized how important that was for our learning. 

Mila C. 5, Greenwich CT

Missing Friends and Playgroups

Mila C, 5, Greenwich CT

The hardest part of learning at home is not hanging out with my friends.

In school, there were so many unexpected things that happened that allowed me to laugh or come up with new ideas. It’s not the same when you video chat with your friends

I miss the little things like seeing my friends smile in class.          

I have made a few new friends at my online school.

Aliha Ali, 13

Everything was planned, then came coronavirus

Aliha Ali, 13, Karachi, Pakistan

I couldn’t wait for my 13th birthday. I had it all planned — an elaborate party that all my local friends in Karachi, Pakistan could enjoy. I was so excited to finally become a teenager. 

Then came coronavirus. 

My plan for confetti and dancing quickly became a quaran-teened birthday. But it wasn’t so bad. My parents managed to surprise me with a giant customized cake when all the shops were closed. I wasn’t even expecting a cake. Written in frosting was “Stay Home. Happy 13th Aliha!” Fitting. 

I never imagined that for months I’d be living in a world where I would have to be at home, take extra safety precautions and stay away from school. My school announced its shutdown on Feb. 26. Two days became two weeks became two months. As of July, I’m now on month five. 

The days aren’t normal anymore. I wake up around at two in the afternoon and go to bed long after midnight. Since the lockdown started, I’m spending less time learning and more time watching YouTube videos and Netflix, reading the “Harry Potter” series for the second time and practicing my singing vocals. 

I also host a children’s news program called “C-News” on the Jinn TV network, and film videos with my brother for our own YouTube Channel: “The Aliha & Aahil Show.” It helps to keep myself busy and creative. Like other developing countries, Pakistan’s school system wasn’t prepared for the digital transition. Many students who go to government schools do not have the technology necessary for video calls or online assignments. The inequality feels unfair. I attend a private school, so I’m privileged to have internet access. It’s cool to think that — though we are at home — my classmates and I log on at the same time each day. 

I virtually attend lessons from my study room. It’s a big room in my house with shelves, a long desk, a couple of computers, a sofa bed and a whiteboard to jot down ideas. I usually alternate between sitting on the wooden floor and doing work at the desk. I can’t concentrate properly if I don’t have candy, snacks and a full glass of Pepsi sitting on my desk. (But that’s a secret.) 

I share the study room with my brother and both my parents. I suppose the experience feels similar to being homeschooled. I’m missing interaction with teachers and friends, but we often interact electronically. If I ever get confused or don’t understand a specific topic I ask questions through email or WhatsApp. 

Learning has been a wildly different experience for me this semester, but I’ll never forget it. I hope I can return to in-person school soon — I study better with company. It might seem like a big ask right now, but I would love to go back to my normal routine. 

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