Fifty-nine per cent of students said that their mental health had been negatively affected by the Covid-19 crisis according to a report by Aontas, the National Adult Learning Organization. Over half of the students surveyed (54%) also said that they struggled with motivation and a “lack of structure” while learning online. 

The Aontas report published results from virtual focus groups and surveys from eight education and training boards around the country.

Learners expressed a need for more support in the areas of mental health, digital skills and online learning, assessment, and progression. They added that their institutions had helped them access their courses as 75 per cent said they “felt supported to learn remotely”. However, the report found that overall, learners found the remote environment challenging. 

The surveys found a significant increase in students reporting challenges in the 2020-21 academic year compared to the initial stages of the pandemic. There was a 15 percentage point increase in students saying they lacked motivation and structure and a 27 percentage point increase in responses saying their mental health was affected by the pandemic. 

The report found that those in direct provision centres and students from the Travelling/Roma community struggled as they were less likely to feel supported. One respondent living in direct provision said they encountered “many distractions” learning remotely. Only 66 per cent felt supported compared to 77 per cent of students who did not identify as part of a vulnerable or minority group. They were also much more likely to have their mental health affected. 

Those in the Travelling/Roma community struggled particularly with motivation and access to their course during the pandemic, and only 38 per cent of Roma/Traveller students enjoyed learning from home. 

Speaking to the Oireachtas Education Committee last week regarding the reopening of higher education facilities, Simon Harris said the report highlights why the government wants to ensure the return of students to campus. He added that while the report highlights the challenges with online learning, there would also be a significant number of students who will be anxious to return to campus. 

Ann Jaffray – Reporter