The global spread of the coronavirus has disrupted countless activities, and education is no exception.
It's hard to imagine what this pandemic would have looked like had it happened just ten years ago. Technology (and in particular, communications technology) has progressed immensely in the past few years, offering us a much-needed respite in these trying times.
But even with modern technology, remote education isn't exactly a piece of cake.
Both academics and students may lack the training needed for online learning. We've seen countless online courses emerging in recent years, but developing online courses involves a special approach, and is usually done by a team of experts following a specific design. In this quick transition, academics have had to adapt on the fly, without the preparation, support, and equipment.
In addition, no online course is capable of replacing face-to-face teaching or the social aspect of education. Furthermore, maintaining student interest and focus is an uphill battle in normal circumstances, but in this type of situation, it's unlikely to happen. Useful online teaching strategies do exist, but it's unlikely that a significant percentage of online teachers (also burdened by the situation) can apply them accordingly.
In addition, online education leaves behind an important subset of students: the underprivileged. Not everyone has access to internet and a performant computer, and there are few solutions for those in this category.
For students living in some paid accommodation, this is not just an educational challenge, it's also a financial one. Students can pay a lot of money for education (if education is not provided for free), and they might also be spending a lot of money on accommodation. They might be forced to renounce a rent contract, with little certainty of when they might come back.
It's a very challenging situation and unfortunately, most universities have taken shallow measures to protect students from these threats. For international students, this can be even more complicated and expensive and might require resources that students just don't have available to them.
Social distancing affects everyone, but it can disproportionately affect university students, for whom social life might be equivalent with campus life. The sense of communication and collaboration commonly found on campuses might be eliminated due to the pandemic.
If students are struggling, there are very few ways for them to receive any help with coursework or any other projects, and team projects have also taken a big hit.
As if this crisis wasn't bad enough on its own, the sheer long-term uncertainty makes it much worse. We don't know when school will resume, how it will continue, whether (and how) financial support will be offered, it's a crazy situation with few certainties.
Getting through all of this is difficult for everyone, but having to focus on courses and exams is not something you'd probably want to pass through.