Concern about student wellbeing – myth or reality
There is significant chatter on the topic of student wellbeing. In some quarters the view is that COVID-19 pandemic has decimated wellbeing and created a significant range of dysfunction in the student community - at all levels.
In the primary sector the disruption over several years has decidedly impacted on academic performance as evidenced in empirical testing such as NAPLAN - https://www.nap.edu.au/naplan The impact of going online in 2020+ and struggling through lockdowns and re-openings has had an impact on the children involved. The evidence will undoubtedly demonstrate a deficiency in basics. Students have, by and large, returned to the safety of the classroom – and from what I glean – to the satisfaction (and possibly relief) of teachers.
In the secondary sector the disruption was evident – but schools and students battled on, so to speak, and the online option was accepted as a way of moving forward. There are tales of drops in both NAPLAN and ATAR - https://www.uac.edu.au/future-applicants/atar - scores that will become public in the next year or so. There were a number of special concessions applied to Years 11 and 12 students to compensate for the disruption – and a lowering of ATAR entry requirements for some institutions is evident. The impact of this will become evident.
In the tertiary sector the disruption is less concerning. It appears that university level students (both private and public) have embraced the online option and many wanting it to stay that way, or at least are keen to entertain a new order of blended learning that combines the best of online and F2F. My own institution (UBSS) conducts regular surveys of students – and the most recent (T1, 2023) suggests that 91% of students would actually like to remain online (95% postgraduate/87% undergraduate). The degree of resilience is impressive – or perhaps the shift to online was not as traumatic as many commentators would make out.
The demand (mainly from staff and institutions) to return ‘to the old ways’ of F2F teaching is driven largely by real estate and retail issues. This desire has fuelled the concerns relating to student welfare. The reality is that by and large students like the convenience of online and/or blended learning – and express this is terms of saving on travel time and cost; maintaining a work/life balance; and keeping the further spread of COVID and FLU at bay.
My observation is that the current augmented concern regarding student well-being is over-exaggerated – and not necessary for the best reasons. There appears as much myth in the commentary as there is reality.
Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is Deputy Vice Chancellor (UBSS) and Vice President (Academic) at GCA.