The COVID-19 crisis has forced school closures in 188 countries, heavily disrupting the learning process of more than 1.7 billion children and youth and thereby affecting their families. In the Netherlands, schools are closed for over a month now, since December last year when the second lockdown was announced.
Most of the students are following online studies. It is, undoubtedly, a challenging situation for parents, to home-school small children and gives their constant support, since the 6-7-year-old kids can hardly manage online classes independently.
While the situation continues to be stressful and poses a real challenge for both, the parents and the teachers, it is mainly the students who mostly bear the brunt of this crisis. The students, from primary school to the university campus, have been learning from a screen, for several months now. They have a minimum, or no, informal contact with their friends. Meeting with their fellow students as they were used to, is no longer possible. But the learning must continue and digital attendance, is mandatory, too. These are huge adjustments. So, how is covid-19 affecting the education of the students in the Netherlands and how are they coping with these changes? What is the opinion of the teachers in this regard?
MBO students: Study delay and lack of concentration and motivation
Angela Wijnen (name changed due to privacy) tells about her Chemical-Physical analyst studies; she studies in a college in Utrecht. “I have a lot of practical classes, which I can’t do at home. At times, I feel that I’m learning less, being in an online class, although the classes are structured well. I can’t concentrate well all the time, and many of my friends, including me, fear that we’d have a study delay, due to the corona crisis.”
And that is a concern shared by their teachers, too. Willy Ickenroth, Director Summa Engineering and Laboratorium, Eindhoven says: “We share that concern. We do quite a lot to support our students, with extra help, extra counseling, etc. And most students have some lessons at school. We can even have students come to school, for extra help and counseling. But, some students are suffering and don’t ask for help. The longer this situation continues, the bigger this risk.”
It is a fact, that the corona-crisis has led to a major shortage of internships in recent months, especially for the MBO students. Companies, out of precaution, do not want to have extra people on the work floor; they’re too busy to train these students. And, sometimes there isn’t enough work. These may be the major reasons why the students may incur study delays.
Willy Ickenroth, however, feels lucky that there are companies, who continue to provide internship places. “We’re allowed to give practical lessons (within certain limits) and to provide lessons for students, who need extra attention. Students are allowed to do their internships and we (school for Engineering and Laboratorium) are lucky that most companies continue to provide those.”
But, her worries persist. “Nonetheless, we are worried, of course. Although we have a lot of online lessons and activities, that is simply not enough. Our major concern is, that students lose interest in studying because they are mostly at home and they want to stop.”
Her words find an echo in the viewpoints of Arbel Bonfis, an IB senior student in the International School of Eindhoven. She speaks about her biggest concern, as she has to take the May 2021 IB examination. “One of my biggest concerns is that the IB will announce exam cancellation. In this way, I’ll always have this feeling that I haven’t fully completed the very challenging IB Diploma. Besides, it also creates a lot of uncertainty for us and lack of motivation, kind of, stems from here too.” Online classes are not something she prefers, despite the teachers trying their best to care and help. “No one likes sitting next to a screen for the whole day.”
The informal contact that the students share in a classroom, or outside, is an important part of their lives. “The lack of interaction with both teachers and students is particularly difficult for me and my friends,” says Senna, a first-year bachelor’s student from Breda. “There are no funny moments in our lives anymore. It is especially difficult for the first-year students, as most of us are living away from home, with very little to distract us. Although I’ve tried to create a routine in my life, I still miss the normal structure in my life and do not know how to look forward to.”
Primary school students: Social isolation of the children has a greater impact
The primary schools in the Netherlands have closed their doors to their young learners, till February 9th. Some schools are still adjusting to remote learning, and the pressure has increased considerably for the teachers. Not only to the educationists and the parents but the Cabinet also finds a school closure till 9 February, to be a very ‘tough measure’, that has major social consequences.
“The biggest concern is, that the children miss the social interaction with their peers and are not able to play with their classmates,” says Krista Sijbers, Principal SALTO International school, RISE, Eindhoven. “The social isolation has a great impact on the well-being of the children.” The benefits of bilingual education are huge, but the present situation arising out of Covid-19, has brought in a most pressing problem, that concerns Krista Sijbers. “As a bilingual school, we worry about the language development of the children, especially for the Dutch language. The teachers are trying to interact and support the students, as much as possible, but there are only limited possibilities for this. Unfortunately, the parents often don’t speak the language, and therefore are not able to support the children with their schoolwork.”
As a matter of fact, there’re various surveys conducted nationwide, that highlights how alarmingly children are lagging in their development. Online classes and distance learning are surely not the best way to teach youngsters. Krista recognizes the challenge involved. “It’s very difficult for young learners to stay focused and engaged while being in a meeting with other classmates; they often are distracted by things that happen around them at home.”
The parents of younger children cannot agree more with Krista. Isabella, a mother of two young boys, aged 10 and 12, understands that parents are called on to be more involved than ever before. “I understand that well. But it bothers me a lot, when I see them doing their studies at my kitchen table, without the help of a trained teacher in the classroom atmosphere. It’s surely not helped by the fact that I, too, must work.”
Isabella would be happy to see her boys back to school soon. Something, that the principal of the SALTO International school, also wishes for. “We believe it would be best for young learners to be back in school, as fast as possible.”
After talking with the teachers, students, and parents, it is absolutely clear that the education system, due to the corona crisis, is going to look different this year, too, than in previous years. Student life, too, has been completely changed by corona. Many have difficulty in looking forward; let’s hope that, in this year, with the vaccine, we’d be somewhat closer to the ‘Old normal’ we all are looking forward to.
Written by: Chaitali Sengupta is a writer, translator, and volunteer journalist at Eindhoven News. Her literary & journalistic articles have appeared in both Dutch and Indian media. She has also translated two books into English and co-authored several anthologies, most prestigious being the International anthology, published by Indie Blu (e) Publishers, USA.