Over 50% of students struggle with mental health during pandemic

Limited space, poor internet access and isolation difficult for those in further education

The findings of the report are from 18 regional events across eight Education and Training Boards between October 2020 and May 2021. File photograph: Getty

The findings of the report are from 18 regional events across eight Education and Training Boards between October 2020 and May 2021. File photograph: Getty

 

More than half of students in further education struggled with remote learning and their mental health throughout the pandemic, according to a research report by the Irish national learning organisation Aontas.

The report, released on Wednesday, found that some 59 per cent of learners’ mental health was affected by the Covid-19 crisis. And 54 per cent struggled with motivation or lack of structure when learning online.

Learners found the remote learning environment challenging due to issues such as limited space, lack of suitable devices for learning, poor or unreliable internet access, isolation and home caring or childcare responsibilities. This is despite some learners reporting that remote learning was more convenient and allowed for more flexibility.

“I have four children and they are all at home, and all studying too. We just have to get on with it. We have to share phones and a computer, and just take turns,” said one participant.

Learners living in Direct Provision particularly felt less supported to learn remotely and were “disproportionately affected” by a lack of motivation and mental health struggle. They were also substantially less likely to feel supported to learn remotely (65 per cent vs 77 per cent).

Similarly, learners from the Traveller/Roma communities struggled with accessing the course they wanted. And those who are non-native English speakers felt less supported to learn remotely.

A member of the Traveller community said it was “especially hard coming from a background where family members may not have attended school so they don’t have support”.

Lone parents and learners with disabilities also struggled disproportionately with online learning and their mental health.

The report documented key recommendations from Further Education and Training learners across Ireland, including the need for more mental health supports, and information on the alternative options in place for work experience placements when it was not possible to complete placements in person.

Learners with disabilities said they would like more digital skills support and increased advertisement of the disability supports available.

Sectors that worked well

Learners looking to progress to employment said they would like more support on future employment and further training opportunities available to them.

A person who was studying a course in hospitality said that “hospitality has suffered hugely under Covid-19 and I feel this course cannot be taught successfully remotely”.

Areas that worked well for learners with Education and Training Boards (ETBs) during the pandemic included communication and device access. People were provided with laptops from the ETBs during the transition to remote learning, and felt that the ETBs tried to stay in touch with them using methods such as email, WhatsApp, Zoom and phone call.

The findings of the report are from 18 regional events across eight Education and Training Boards between October 2020 and May 2021.

More than 2,000 learners participated in the events. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on in-person gatherings, the forum consisted of virtual focus-group events and online learner surveys.

The majority of participants were aged 18-24, followed by the 45-54 age cohort. Most were female and the vast majority were unemployed and seeking work.

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