Inever realised how much I enjoyed the sweaty, overcrowded journey into school until it was replaced with a half-asleep crawl from my bed to my desk, 30 seconds before my first lesson was supposed to start. It’s a routine which most of us students have had to get used to since March last year and it was a massive change.
When we were first sent home from school, it wasn’t with a fanfare, but with a bleak mass email and assurances from our teachers that we’d be back after Easter. Our group chats on social media erupted in celebration. It took less than half a day for the excitement to die down as we each realised what the prospect of being locked inside indefinitely actually meant.
That said, for the first couple of weeks, the new situation at least provided some opportunities for entertainment. Zoom was a willing host: from fun virtual backgrounds to the game-changing discovery a week into the pandemic that we could mute our teachers. The more resourceful students realised that you could get away with setting your background as a looped video of yourself working and be free to go off and enjoy your morning in peace. It was an excellent skiving tactic… until the teacher asked you a question. Although friends told stories of teachers accidentally screen-sharing compromising search histories, before long the reality of online schooling was surprisingly boring.
I would have thought that living through a global pandemic in my teenage years was the intriguing plot of a young adult novel. In fact, the most exciting events were when teachers were late to email us Zoom links and we collectively held our breath, hoping they had forgotten about the class entirely. Inevitably, they rarely had. After the initial novelty had subsided, we realised that with exams coming up, ignoring an entire term of lessons probably wasn’t the best idea.
In school, you have the respite of seeing friends in the corridor between lessons or at lunch. During breaks from Zoom, I would take a walk to the kitchen for a snack or, more likely, just flop back on to my bed, already exhausted. The option was there to call friends after school but having spent a day at my desk staring at a screen, the prospect of spending my evening doing the same just didn’t appeal. That’s not to say this was the fault of teachers. Quite the opposite — I’ve no doubt they felt the boredom and missed the business of school just as much as we did.
When the time eventually came to return, being back in school felt a million miles from online learning. Although we were restricted by bubbles, had allotted time for lunch, and had to wear masks in lessons, just being around people and getting out of our rooms made all the difference. With the easing of restrictions came the return of socialising (in groups of six, outside, of course) and at moments, life felt almost normal. However, it didn’t last. For those of us unlucky enough to get ‘pinged’ by the NHS app (or indeed just to exist anywhere in the proximity of someone who had a positive test, given the confusing and often contradictory rules of school bubbles), it was a return to those online learning conditions.
Will I miss the sight of a classmate using their laptop camera as a mirror to force a lateral flow test down their throat in the middle of an English lesson? No. What about hearing flushing in the middle of a class as someone forgot to mute his microphone to go to the bathroom? Probably not. However, what Zoom schooling has proved is that school isn’t just about timetabled lessons and completing the syllabus. The social aspect goes hand-in-hand with the academic and should be valued as such.
Of course, the sacrifices of British students are nothing compared with those made by others around the world over the past year. Missed parties and lacklustre lessons are put into perspective by stories of people who have lost everything during the pandemic. Some employers have suggested that the shift to remote working is here to stay. While that may work for some jobs, I think most students would agree that when the time comes to return later this month, we’d rather not spend any more time on Zoom.