Human interaction is at the heart of learning

Australian Jesuit Provincial, Fr Quyen Vu SJ considers the ways in which lockdowns have had a particular impact on school students. In the midst of uncertainty, Fr Quyen reflects on the way that learning and growth requires the opportunity to interact, socialise, relate and have fun with peers.

The last year and a half have been challenging for everyone, trying to manoeuvre through the pandemic without knowing when it will end. It seems as soon as we are able to return to some kind of ‘normality’, disaster hits us, and we are back in lockdown again. There was great fear when the whole world was going through the first wave of Covid-19. There was no certainty a vaccine could be manufactured as the pandemic spread across the globe.

It was quite scary to see the number of deaths increasing each day around the world. When vaccines were developed, this was a sign of hope and we thought everything would return to some kind of ‘normality’ again. However, we now know that this is not the case. The Delta variant has shown us that things can change quickly, without warning. In much of Australia we have been going from one lockdown to another and it can take only one wrong move for a whole state or country to find itself in lockdown.

All of us, whether young or old, are affected by the lockdowns. School students are, however, the ones who come out worse because they especially need physical space to exercise, socialise and learn and grow together. School is where students spend the majority of their daily activities outside of their own homes.

To learn, to interact, to socialise, to relate and have fun with one another are all part and parcel of being a student. Students not only gain intellectual knowledge but also develop their social traits and relationships with other people through schooling. The lockdowns have negatively impacted these important aspects of their life at school.

The things that students miss the most during lockdowns are being able to meet their peers, interact and relate with one another and experience face-to-face learning with their teachers and friends.

Online learning is an alternative. Being in front of a computer is not, however, the same as being in a classroom. The classroom atmosphere not only provides a conducive environment for learning but also develops mental, emotional and psychological wellness for students. There has been an increase in the number of young people reporting mental illnesses seemingly due to the lockdowns. Students, therefore, look forward to seeing lockdowns being lifted so they can return to school to meet their friends, to interact, to learn, to relate and to grow in a safe environment.

What the lockdown has taught us is that students and adults alike need to relate, to socialise, and to interact with one another. Personal interaction is important to our sense of wellbeing. Online learning or online meetings cannot replace human interaction, which is an essential aspect of being human.