Just when Sheila Makena Mriti from Kenya was preparing to take her winter semester 2019 exams, due to a high number of COVID-19 cases the lockdown was announced in Siegen, a small town in the North-Rhine Westphalia state, Germany, where she is living and pursuing her studies.
She told Erudera College News that after the lockdown was announced, the winter semester exams were cancelled until the summer semester. From March 2020, when all classes moved to the online version during the summer semester 2020, she was forced to write two sets of exams: one set for the cancelled winter semester 2019 exams, and the other set for the summer semester 2020.
“That was a very tough period. I am currently in the winter semester 2020. I have had to really adjust from a classroom setting to an online setting form of studying,” she said.
With the pandemic affecting students in many aspects, especially financially, getting a part-time job amid the crisis was also a very hard time for Sheila and her fellow students, as businesses in most industries were also struggling.
Luckily, she managed to find a part-time job and cover her student living expenses herself as a self-financed student.
She believes that the Coronavirus age has revolutionised studying, in particular in Germany as most universities have moved to the online platform.
At the University of Siegen, where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Economic Policy, most classes have settled on Jitsi or Zoom.
“We have been using online platforms like Jitsi and zoom for the classes. To complete my assignments, I have been using Excel, MATLAB and lyx templates.”
Despite the fact that online learning has been associated with several challenges such as poor internet or reduced classroom interactions with professors and other students, Sheila said she prefers online setting over the traditional way of learning, claiming that “it has been a major source of stress this year, but on the contrary, a blessing in disguise”.
Among the reasons why she prefers online learning more is because students are provided with video-recording for lectures and tutorials, which has come in handy especially for those who miss the classes, plus that online teaching methods have also given her enough time to catch up with her studies and other aspects of her life. Yet, she also outlines the negative side of online learning that she has noticed.
“Online learning has been effective in most of my classes except the German language course. I found the classes and digital mode of learning very ineffective in learning the language. I have temporarily halted my attendance of the language course. I plan to resume, and once in-person classes are available. One of the downsides of online learning has, however, been a larger workload as compared to traditional classroom learning.”
Minimal Physical Contact With People Caused Anxiety & Stress
Fearful that staying locked up in the house could have a bad impact on her mental health, Sheila practised walking every day for 10 km a day in order to relieve stress and anxiety amid a tough time.
“When Germany announced the first lockdown, I was in total shock. I am an outdoor sort of person, and I knew staying locked up in the house the whole day would take a toll on my mental health. However, we were allowed a social distanced walk in the park or forests. Siegen is a very green town, has a number of parks and forests you can go for a long walk.”
Yet, in addition to lockdown, the lack of contact with people affected her mentally as she could not see her family and friends, leaving her uncertain about when it would be possible to meet them again.
“I had to give up my love for travelling because of the border closures. I could not even visit most of my close friends (who feel like family) in the nearby Netherlands. It has been a few months of not seeing them, yet we live close to each other. I was planning to visit my family in Kenya this December, but I couldn’t due to travel restrictions,” she said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, buying panic also increased the stress of students. Toilet papers, face masks, hand sanitisers and things like flour, rice, sugar, baking powder and more were in short supply.
Due to this, Sheila highlighted that there were weeks when it was also impossible to find food essentials like pasta, a situation that affected her eating habits, so she was forced to prepare food with whatever things she had. She often supplied her fellow students with toilet papers.
“Siegen Helps Students” – Project Offering €450 to Students in Need Amid Pandemic
The University of Siegen where Sheila is a student has been supporting its students since the very first days of COVID-19 outbreak. Sheila emphasised that the first source of support was a list with different funding options for students affected by the pandemic.
One of the options she mentioned was the “Siegen Helps Students”, a crowdfunding project offering an amount of €450 to students who were more adversely affected by the pandemic.
In addition, the university also supported students in the psychological aspect, by providing them helpline numbers so they can call the university in case they need psychological help.
The Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF) is providing bridging aid to students affected by the pandemic until the end of the winter semester, which includes two components: the KfW students loan and the financial aid given by the student services. Sheila noted that she is currently benefiting from the KfW student loan.
As the access to the interest-free loan is not the same for locals and international students, Sheila said that international students could access the loan from June 1, 2020, while the local students accessed it from May 8, 2020.
“The interest until then will be taken care of by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). After that, the then valid interest rate has to be borne by students themselves. I am currently receiving the loan. I receive it every month,” Sheila said.
Online learning has, in particular, affected students living in different time zones, as for them, taking online classes sometimes was almost impossible.
For Sumaiya Tabassum from Bangladesh, a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, studying amid Coronavirus was a challenging experience due to the 12-hours time difference between her home country and Nebraska.
A survey conducted by Easy Group, an education company founded by University of Toronto alumni showed that online learning has been a negative experience for around 70 per cent of students participating in the survey.