Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Tiankuo Jiang, (second from left) reads a textbook aloud with other students in in his middle school in Nanjing, China.

Whether students study remotely or in person the learning curve around the world has shifted as new school policies to fight the coronavirus makes learning safely more complex.

Studying remotely from Beijing was the best option for Weichen Du, academically problematic as it could be. The Australian border restriction did not allow Weichen to travel to the country, and Weichen could not find a job due to the pandemic.  Travel possibilities were also limited.

Weichen Du was attends a Zoom tutorial held by the University of Melbourne from his home in Beijing, China. Photo by Xinhui Ying

“I think the quality of teaching, and also the class, has significantly dropped down,” Du, a first-year master’s student in Marketing Communications at the University of Melbourne said.  “It is harder to understand what the professor wants on each assignment.”

At the same time, Weichen felt depressed and isolated from the rest of the class. He believed that everyone in his program felt the same way. The physical distance made him feel less close to professors and discouraged him from reaching out.

 “I tried everything to keep me busy… but my mental health still got worse because of the social distancing,” Weichen said. “I realized that interaction between people was so important for our being.You need to interact with people to keep everything moving.”

Siyi Xie, a sophomore studying Business Administration and Management at the University of Toronto, decided to do the entire academic year remotely from Vancouver. She revealed that the online learning experience was very inconvenient because of the time difference and the fact that students were not used to the instruction mode. However, she believed it would be better over time.

“My biggest fear is about how they would deliver the exams, ” Xie said. “Because people who do courses online have the opportunity to cheat. Therefore, the test they give these people will be harder than those who do the in-person exams. I am afraid of being graded unfairly because I don’t cheat although I take classes online.”

Siyi Xie takes handwriting notes at home in Vancouver, Canada for a University of Toronto course. Photo by Siyi Xie

Xie was also concerned about the safety of living on campus, and that was one of the major reasons she decided not to return to class in-person.

“Just live in close proximity to other people who you don’t know and cannot trust fully, I feel that’s a bit dangerous,” she said.

In terms of social life outside of academics, COVID-19 has made it harder for Xie to hang out with people. Most restaurants in Vancouver were closed for dine-in options. When she interacted with people online, she had to wait for responses.  Also, the tone and meaning behind the words were a bit hazier, as she could not hear or see her friends.

“If it’s just a normal school year, it will be so easy to go to class in person and actually make a few friends,” Siyi said. “So you can swap notes maybe and become study buddies. But right now, because of COVID-19 and because of online delivery, it’s hard to actually just text someone and become close with them.”

Tiankuo Jiang is a freshman in a middle school in Nanjing, China. He started his first day of class on Sept.1.

“I think except the dining, all things are just normal,” Jiang said.  “We just can’t eat together. Every student has one corner of the table, and then you put a cross-shaped plastic between students to make them separate.”

The teachers did not tell students to wear masks, but most students did. In addition, students were not required to keep a 2-meter distance.  But Jiang does not feel stressed about contracting the virus.

“I think it’s just okay, because we had very great protection before and now we don’t have many cases,” Jiang said.



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