Students cite lack of peer contact as challenge during Covid-19 lockdown

A woman seated on the floor with her hand covering her face.

Lack of peer contact and motivation are the two biggest challenges faced by higher education students during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: Pixabay

Published Mar 29, 2021


Lack of peer contact and motivation are the two biggest challenges faced by higher education students last year, after institutions took teaching online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

This is according to the Independent Institute of Education (IIE) survey which tested the sentiment of students from 22 institutions – eight privates and 14 public universities across South Africa. The students, from diverse background, were questioned about their lockdown learning experience.

The survey indicated that more than 40% of respondents missed their peers and found it hard to adjust to online learning, ultimately leading to a loss of motivation on the part of many.

While there were no concerns of data or accessibility to technology devices the issue of the quality of online teaching varied.

Many of the students rated the standard of online teaching and engagement as “Good” or Excellent” but more than 25% of students cited a lack of support as an issue. Even within faculties within the same institution, inconsistency was experienced as contained in student comments.

“Some were good and some were bad,” said one engineering student quoted in the survey. Another student said, “I don’t like how things are being done now.”

The survey noted that the students’ perceptions were limited by their experiences; some enjoyed the contact learning environment before lockdown and some preferred independent learning.

“In the online space, there is far less that is familiar to the students which heighten anxiety and when that is then overlaid with great variability in the methods, tools and structures used by lecturers let alone their individual strategies to share knowledge and skills it is unsurprising that students found it overwhelming and cited lack of consistency as an issue,” the survey noted.

Director of the IIE and AdvTech Group Academic Dr Felicity Coughlan said higher education institutions should ensure consistency and effectiveness of teaching and learning, as well as providing the crucial support students need.

“Students expressed a need for safety, consistency, security and predictability, and as we head into another uncertain academic year, effort must be made to address these concerns.

“They also need active learning where they are involved and (to be) engaged with learning materials. So online platforms where lecturers try to mirror what is happening in class without active engagement will be less effective, because students are inclined to disengage more readily when they are not visible to the lecturer, who then is not in a position to respond to the disengagement,” she said.

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