Education amid pandemic: between online burnout, anxiety in real life, and transformation opportunity

In Comrat, the pressure on teachers, students, and parents is gaining ground, being relieved only by spending more time with loved ones.

UNDP in Moldova
Dec 21, 2020 · 8 min read
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“I have to come to work with fear, because, in principle, as you understand, I’m in the risk group and I should stay home and not go out in public, but since we have a shortage of staff, I have to work, teach lessons and educate children. Sometimes it brings you joy, but unfortunately, not always,” says Tatiana Caliciscova, who at the age of 70 still teaches mathematics and computer science at “Nicolae Tretiacov” high school in Comrat. For over 50 years, she has been teaching students to value not so much the correct answer to problems and exercises, but the solving process and the logical chain of mathematical operations.

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We found her in the classroom, with a mask and disinfectant at hand, teaching geometry to the 8th grade in mixed format — this being the model chosen by the school in September 2020 to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.

“It is very difficult for a teacher to teach a lesson in such a blended way, having to switch attention between 30 people in the class and four more watching online.”

Tatiana Caliciscova’s students are enthusiastic. For them, math classes are an opportunity to discuss, to look for various methods of solving the problems and finding the unknowns. They confess that math is one of their favourite subjects.

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This summer, the teacher has taken training courses in information technology, and now she is juggling various platforms, from Google Meet to Zoom and studii.md, with interactive online game apps and tests on top of it.

“Everything has changed radically: the whole process of learning and communicating with students, with colleagues, with parents — absolutely everything has changed, including everyone’s attitude towards learning. The teachers had to adapt urgently, because not everyone had enough computer skills to conduct these online lessons, but fortunately our teachers got used to it rather quickly and during all this time our school operated in a normal regime.”

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“Next year I will be taking the baccalaureate exams and I’m afraid of them… I am already behind the program”

Face to face with the teacher’s desk or on the other side of monitors or mobile devices’ screens, the students too had to adapt to the new normal.

“Science subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics are hard to master, let alone when you are in quarantine with the teacher not being physically present. Face-to-face communication with the teacher is needed, so that s(he) draws the geometric figures on the blackboard. Real interaction is needed. The applications we use may not work properly or even crash, being overloaded by the presence of too many participants. When studying in class, we communicate, which is not the case with remote learning,” says Maria Cravtova, an 11th-grade student at the “Nicolae Tretiacov” high school in Comrat.

Maria is planning on taking the baccalaureate exams in 2021, but she is already nervous.

“Next year I will be taking the baccalaureate exams and I’m afraid of them. During the second semester we studied from home and we skipped certain topics on mathematics, particularly new ones. When we came back to school on the 1st of September, the teacher started to explain us again, but we were already behind the program. I don’t understand the lesson being taught now and the exercises we are given to solve.”

“Quiet, I’m in class”

Maria’s mother is a teacher of Gagauz language and literature at the same high school. During the pandemic, all four children, including Maria, switched to online education, which made the house seem too small, and personal space and soundproofing became an impossible dream. “As a teacher, I had to prepare for the lessons and teach, while they — as students, had to attend lessons and the first issue we faced was the lack of space.

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”We were all talking out loud and distracting each other; everybody, from every room was screaming ‘Quiet!’,” Natalia Cravtova said

With the onset of the pandemic, they had to buy both cable and mobile internet so that the whole family could connect, which put a strain on the family budget. Sounding good at first, the “studying from home” thing came together with worries and frustrations. However, the problem that beats them all is the constant lack of time.

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“We, teachers, had to work not twice, but three times as much. Why, because in addition to preparing for lessons, writing lesson plans, we had to prepare presentations for each lesson. And this was reflected in the fact that I practically didn’t have time to help my children. I didn’t have time to treat my kids with something tasty — I practically didn’t have time to cook.”

“Teacher, the network went down”

Both teachers and students together with their parents mention the worsening quality of education.

“In my opinion, studying became more difficult now because before the pandemic, when we didn’t understand something, we could ask the teacher, who would explain it all over again. We can’t do this now and as a result, the quality of education decreased a little,” says Iulia Cissa, a 9th grade student at the “Dumitru Mavrodi” high school in Comrat.

Some students have become quite skilled at skipping classes at least partially, says math and computer science teacher Tatiana Caliciscova: “While all teachers see only disadvantages, students talk about the advantages. They say they can get up 5 minutes before the lesson, not turn on the camera blaming network connection troubles, they can avoid connecting to a lesson motivating it wasn’t possible, and so on. Unfortunately, the Internet is not as fast as it should be for a high-quality online learning process.”

More time with the loved ones, new hobbies — among the positive collateral effects of the pandemic

On the other hand, some parents started to spend more quality time at home, with their loved ones.

“My daily routine changed during the pandemic: I started to see and to communicate with family more often. I spend more time doing household chores, but I see my friends less frequently,” Iulia Cissa shared with us.

Her mother, Ludmila, owner of a store that sells hair cosmetics, thinks along the same lines: “We found what to do at home, which was useful both for us and for children. We spent more time together; we did things that we never did before. Every evening we played different games, such as playing cards; we did a lot of drawing, colouring and communicating with girls. We started to bake.”

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Natalia Cravtova mentions, too, that one of the positive circumstantial effects was that the students started communicating more with their own siblings, while previously they used to be closer to their classmates and other friends.

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“During the pandemic, being a home, I got to see my children every day. I felt at peace that they stay together, do not go outside in the evening, and are thus not at any risk or in a bad company. I noticed that our children started to get closer to each other than before, since they spent more time together.”

Real-life communication is irreplaceable

Everybody wants to go back to what used to be normal, although that risks becoming what we’d call “the new normal”.

“I believe that in the future students should study in schools because they degrade because of remote learning. I want this period to end as soon as possible. However, I think this will last for a long time,” believes Maria Cravtova. After graduation, she wants to study at the Medical College in Cahul to become a nurse.

”Real-life communication is irreplaceable” , says the 14-year-old Iulia Cissa: “Remote learning is of course interesting, perhaps many like it better. It could become very well developed in the future. However, I believe it is better to go to school, to communicate with friends, teachers, classmates.”

Online learning puts a strain on your eyes and can be stressful, concludes Tatiana Caliciscova, maths and computer science teacher: “In my opinion, this was a difficult period for all of us, but for teachers in particular. This is based on the opinions of parents who stayed isolated for three months and saw how teachers had to teach children.

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”It was tough, and from parents’ reactions I realized that they changed their opinion about our profession because they started wondering: how are you coping with them?”

In March 2020, when the novel coronavirus started to spread in the Republic of Moldova and until the end of the academic year in May, the learning process was conducted online. In September, every institution chose a model best suited for its needs: face-to-face, mixed, or remote, in order to ensure everybody’s safety.

Although the schools and universities implemented online learning, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting education for an entire generation, and school closures affect the disadvantaged population groups even more, according to the socio-economic impact assessment of the pandemic conducted by UNDP Moldova, in partnership with UNFPA and the State Chancellery.

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UNDP will support the region of Gagauzia to ensure the continuity of education in crisis situations, to provide quality education services, both in the case of face-to-face learning and online learning.

Text: Laura Bohanțova, UNDP Moldova

Photo: Dumitru Șevcic

UNDP Moldova

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