Post-secondary stress worse: poll
Students say quality of education is down in pandemic, mental health woes on rise
As Calgary universities prepare for another semester of largely online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some students are concerned mental health strain is increasing while quality of education falls.
An informal survey conducted by the University of Calgary's Graduate Students' Association this fall found 49 per cent of respondents felt the model of learning being done at the school, where most classes were online but some were offered in-person, was very challenging.
Concerns over finances and safety were front of mind for many students throughout the fall semester, said Christine Cao, vice-president external of the association.
“We also have heard from TAS there are increased workloads with the transition to online learning,” Cao said.
The shift to online learning made for a difficult semester for Madeline Schneider, an undergraduate education student at the U of C. She reported having her instructional time shift from six hours per week to only eight hours over the course of her entire semester.
“We're paying the exact same tuition costs. ... It's so frustrating,” Schneider said. “It's getting to the point where you're not paying for the experience, you're not paying for the knowledge, you're just paying for the piece of paper that will allow you to do what you want to do.”
Schneider is in the final year of her education degree, and completed a practicum placement in a Calgary junior high this fall. She said she was required to complete her placement in-person — a situation that made her uncomfortable given rising COVID-19 case counts over the past few months.
“It was an extra amount of anxiety” on top of what was already a really difficult situation, she said.
Students at Mount Royal University have reported similar stresses, said Rachel Timmermans, vice-president external of the school's students' association.
The students' association also conducted a survey of undergraduates, which indicated mental health is the largest struggle for students.
“A large majority of students have said they're really struggling to maintain a decent quality of mental health or physical health,” Timmermans said.
“With the classes being online, there's been a lot of extra stress added ... There's been a huge dichotomy. There's some professors who have given their heart and soul to making sure students are still getting a quality education online, but other professors, from the perception of students, have not taken the same care or consideration.”
Many courses are evaluated online differently from in-person learning, Timmermans said, with some professors assigning extra assignments or tests to make up for a perceived gap in evaluation online.
Winter semesters will look similar at MRU and the U of C. Both universities will start their semester Jan. 11, with MRU having pushed their start date back nearly a week — a move meant to boost student mental health.
Both will continue to follow a blended model for teaching in January, with a mix of online and in-person classes.
Schneider said she hopes next semester, her faculty will offer a quality of education consistent with what was provided pre-pandemic.
“If we could have actual classes and instruction, the way it was when we were not online, that would be great,” she said.
There are a few steps Timmermans hopes MRU will take to ease the mental health burden on students in the coming semester. She said the university has postponed its course withdrawal date to give students more flexibility on whether to stick with their courses if stress mounts.
She added the students' association was working to make sure students know how to access counselling and other mental health resources remotely.
“It's especially hard now that things have moved online because usually students find out about these things by walking around campus and seeing the different offices, but they can't do that any more,” Timmermans said.
A large majority of students have said they're really struggling (with) … mental health or physical health.