That is how highschool college students in Quebec survived the varsity 12 months with a pandemic

Since the closure of schools in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought us to a new reality. For teenagers, the daily routine changed with the closure of schools and they had to cope with significant changes in the way they learned.

Research has shown that at least three aspects of adolescents’ lives are important for their development, including their identity:

to feel the support of their parents, to feel competent and to be able to take a reflective attitude towards the future. These aspects are developed by positive, reassuring and stable relationships at school and at home, which in turn are assets for resilience.

We are three researchers who are members of the Center for Research and Intervention in Academic Success, headquartered at Laval University, who conducted a survey among Quebec adolescents. The study looked at how teens perceive their adaptations, changes in routine, state of mind, and relationships with friends, teachers, and family.

sadness and boredom

Students had access to the questionnaire between November 2020 and March 2021. They were asked to take into account their March 2020 experience.

In Quebec, secondary schools remained open during the period under review, but students were placed in “bubble classes” to communicate only with their classmates. Students 4e a 5e secondary, even 3e) physically attended school every other day, except when the COVID-19 outbreak sent them home for 14 days to receive online tuition. The physical place of learning therefore fluctuated in an unpredictable way for them.

The results of the study point to the tension experienced by 1,057 adolescents attending 37 schools in Quebec.

dYoung people in downtown Montreal. One study examined the responses of more than 1,050 teenagers from 37 schools in Quebec.
Canadian Press / Ryan Remiorz

When asked how they generally felt during a pandemic, 59% of teenagers said they were sad and 82% said they were bored. Almost 57% said their learning outcomes were worse and 24% said they did not understand the curriculum. 52% physically went to school every day and 34% went only a few days a week.

Looking at things that seem to negatively affect their willingness to do their best at school, 42% attribute this to changes in their routines and 55% are bored at school. Sixty-five percent said they lacked the motivation to finish school.

Young woman sitting at laptop
65% of teenagers say they lack motivation for school work.

Thirty-six percent said they did not have access to a quiet area for learning at home or teaching online. Nineteen percent did not have regular access to a computer. In terms of sleep habits, 42% of teenagers surveyed slept less than eight hours a night.

Among those who played video games for more than four hours a day, 52% slept less than eight hours, compared with 36% who played less than three hours a day.

More busy

One third of the students had paid work when completing the questionnaire. According to ‘[ Enquête québécoise sur la santé des jeunes du secondaire (EQSJS)] this represents an increase over the last survey conducted in 2016-17. At that time, 22% of high school students (usually 12 to 18 years old) had paid employment with an employer.

Among teenagers who had paid work for more than 16 hours a week, 64% slept less than eight hours a night. Thirty-eight percent of unpaid students slept less than eight hours a night.

Man with a mask
Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister of education, first likened a stay at home to a vacation.
Canadian Press / Graham Hughes

In the weeks after his arrest in March 2020, there was confusion when the Quebec Minister of Education likened the school at home to a “holiday” before clarifying that the year of school was not over. Although we do not know to what extent paid juvenile employment may have changed between 2017 and the period immediately preceding the pandemic, it can be assumed that a significant number of juveniles chose to find paid employment during the reduction.

When asked if they are happy to meet their friends at school in September 2020, 86% of students answered in the affirmative.

Challenges related to the loss of landmarks

Decreased motivation and loss of orientation at school and with friends can affect adolescents’ ability to participate fully in learning and affect their well-being. Our data illustrate the importance of better support for adolescents facing new challenges.

We think it is important for educators and families to be more flexible.

While many parents fear increasing their time online, using social media can be beneficial if it promotes positive relationships with friends and other members of their community.

The teenagers said that their parents did not always understand the use of technology and the school’s requirements for distance learning.

Schools should consider providing technical assistance to parents, not just teachers and students. Parents are not all the same when it comes to using technology. Many families in rural or disadvantaged areas also do not have equal access to technological tools or the Internet.

Read more: Digital platforms alone do not bridge the gap between young people

This situation widens the digital divide and learning opportunities for some teenagers. Our results suggest that some students’ access to technology when they are at home may have increased their learning difficulties during COVID-19.

Support students

School closures may have exacerbated existing inequalities in the outcome gap between 15-year-olds in Canada and school inequalities in teaching and their long-term consequences.

This is shown by research by the charity Pathways to Education, which aims to break the vicious circle of poverty through education [nombreux élèves issus de milieux socio-économiques défavorisés auront du mal à rattraper leur retard scolaire]. There is a greater risk of abandonment.

It is therefore clear that the school system and decision-makers in Quebec need to consider support measures for students who may face the risk of early school leaving. We also hope that the results of this research will help adolescents communicate better with their family, teachers and friends if they ever have to face another crisis situation that destabilizes them.

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