As we transition to an online class system amid the pandemic, we question not what we are learning but if we are learning through this new method of education, or are we just passing requirements to have a grade.

It’s been more than a month since we started to take online classes and we want to share our first-hand experience of being college freshies in an online university.

Poor Students Bear the Brunt of Online Costs

Distant learning requires us to buy prepaid load for a good WiFi connection, and a bare minimum gadget where we can work on. These are costly requirements for us as unprivileged students. A Php99 worth of internet access promo with a data cap would last only as far as three days of online classes.

Php33 a day for internet cost is already around 5% of the total income of a minimum-wage earner. If an average family has three students, that’s 15% minimum of their total income spent for internet use. Even if public universities are now free of tuition, a 15% spike of spending for internet would mean years trapped in debt for some families.

The great reliance of the new learning system on the internet and technological devices created a wider gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged.

Education now has been more financially demanding compared to before. It requires us and our families to shell out more money just so we can continue our studies at home. This is an added burden for students, especially that some members of our household have lost their jobs and livelihoods as our economy shrunk. Many of our classmates would prefer skipping online sessions and just submitting requirements because they ran out of data packs.

It is not unthinkable for us to also take part-time jobs to earn additional money to support and sustain our education. However, this additional work adds to the stress we are facing in our school work and in turn, we spend less time studying which makes it tempting for us to do all sorts of shortcuts just to submit our requirements. The current learning system is unfavorable to a huge margin of poor students, and the question if education is really a right or a privilege has never been more relevant than now as we do it online.

Online Stress and Fatigue 

Beyond what one can afford or not, another common challenge for those taking online classes is online stress and fatigue.

Our state of mental health in doing online classes is a major issue we face every day. Getting up in the morning just to put yourself in front of a laptop is not the norm for us. Naturally, it will take us some time to get used to this set-up. But workloads are not adjusting with this new environment.

We find ourselves turning in assignments weeks late. It wasn’t only because we were having trouble purchasing data packs, it was also because we felt lost. We usually feel the restlessness of having classes and also studying at the same spot at home. It consumes most of our time and causes us to get anxious as we overthink if what we are doing is productive or meaningful.

We are also having a hard time finding emotional support due to the lack of socialization with our classmates and friends. When break time means only shifting from one window to another to try to connect to your friends, it doesn’t seem like a break at all.

Coping With a Difficult New Normal 

As we study at our own pace, we are also clueless if we are doing the right thing. We have observed that some of our classmates are not technologically literate. That alone is a problem in pacing ourselves with assignments. Another problem is when technical issues with devices and network signal occur, we find ourselves in different awkward situations exhausting the expensive and crucial mobile data.

These situations grossly affect our academic participation and learning. Hence, if online classes are made to fulfill the objective of learning continuity, why does it feel we have stopped learning now? If learning was hard before the pandemic, it was even more difficult for us to grasp now.

This new education system is more of a day-to-day struggle than a day-to-day learning. We are dealing with physical, mental, and emotional issues, from expensive data packs to the luxury of rest.

With these challenges to online learning, we have never skipped the thought on when will all this end; for the last thing we want to have is a diploma that certifies only our doubt on our own knowledge and capabilities.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “To deny people their human rights means denying their humanity.” Our humanity is at stake in the kind of education we build from this pandemic. Surviving the new normal should not only mean developing online classes, but education should be made liberating for all.