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Thursday Connectors: Digital Dilemmas

by Farzana Hakim

Hello, all. Welcome to another Thursday Connectors, with me, your host, Farzana.

This week, we’re talking about the digital dilemmas we’ve had to face during lockdown. For this, I’ll be connecting with a couple of young adults from the UK who share their experiences of being unplugged, and whether going completely digital has been positive or negative for them. I’ll also be taking you to Karachi in Pakistan, to connect with two students who tell me what going completely digital has meant for their studies.

For me, the digitalisation of our lifestyles during lockdown has been challenging. My stay-at-home mum, slash novelist, slash editor, slash multi-tasking, absolutely-fantastic-woman status has been through her fair share of digital dilemmas. I kid you not! For starters, I’m not as loaded as I once dreamt I would be, and so I don’t have anywhere near enough money to invest in the new technology needed to keep on top of things. My knight in shining armour came wearing Matalan and George from Asda’s, rather than Armani and Gucci. Even after joining our finances to raise our family and keep the house running, luxuries and dreamy holidays to honey-moony destinations are still left unfulfilled. Reader, I married him twenty years ago!

Joking aside, I’m grateful for whatever I have. I also like to think we have worked hard to give the children a good life. The twins, now first-year university students, have their own laptops, iPads, etc. Thank God for that! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the stamina to moderate between two nineteen-year-old boys (young men, rather). Last year, my husband treated me to my own Apple MacBook for my birthday, for all my ‘writing stuff’. This upgrade meant I wasn’t sharing with my daughter any more. She took full ownership of my old one and am I glad for that!

During lockdown, with schools being out and her doing all her homework online, if we had still been sharing that one laptop, I wouldn’t have been able to continue writing or editing Thursday Connectors. It wouldn’t have been fair to ask the boys to compromise and let me or their sister use theirs for a bit because, aside from the (rare) study, watching Netflix on their laptops with the AirPods on, is oh, so important to them. Even still, I often find my daughter sitting behind my new laptop for some of her homework, because the old one is apparently too slow and too pink!

Many parents are faced with this dilemma. Some families have no access to a computer at all! Newspieces have shown how siblings in a family have had to access online study through one mobile phone, shared with the parent. In Barking and Dagenham, where I live, a letter has been sent to Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary. Signed by our local Councillors and Town Hall Chiefs, it speaks of the lack of support given to pupils belonging to poorer families. A thousand laptops have already been given to families living in the borough, for children to get on with their studies, but this figure is nowhere near enough.

This places a huge strain on an affected child’s education and wellbeing. Lockdown has been hard enough as it is. I reckon, even if a child does have access to a device for homework, it doesn’t necessarily mean the child is ahead and keeping on top of lessons. Some days, my daughter, who is normally an eager pupil, hasn’t had the motivation to do any lessons at all. When she’s felt like that, for the sake of her wellbeing, I’ve let her be, allowing her to get on with whatever she has wanted to do instead. In September, when schools open up properly again, I hope not too many children are lagging behind their peers. Teaching will have to take a different approach, whereby a child’s attainment levels will be assessed, based on the effects lockdown has had on them.

For our first ‘Connectors’ this week, two students, both living in east London, share some of their digital dilemmas with us:

First up is Afiyah Hakim, a student of English literature from East Ham; a borough neighbouring mine, Newham.

Hi, Afiyah. Let’s connect:

Going Digital During Lockdown

Being a college student, I was supposed to be completing my A-level exams this month. This didn’t happen. The months of countless hours of preparation, mock exams and making timetables, is what will probably determine my grades now. I can’t say I’m too pleased with this, as it’s common for some students to do better in the final exams than in their mock exams. Ultimately, though, there is not much myself or my peers can do about this.

When lockdown began and school finished, I was still assigned homework online. Being an English literature and philosophy student, I was allocated countless essays, so my teachers could get a better understanding of what my final grades might be. Although the tasks were laid out, a lot of the actual explanation was missing. This caused countless back-and-forth emails between our class and our teachers. It was quite a lengthy and anxious process.

Moreover, despite there being enough devices in the house for all my siblings to use, it was uncanny as to why my sister ‘needed’ the laptop that I was working on for her homework, too. This inevitably led to disagreements between us.

Although lockdown has brought about drastic changes, it has also given me the time to work on my baking business: ‘Baked by Afs’ on Instagram. It has allowed me to rediscover my passion for baking, as I have countless hours of free time to experiment and whip up delicious treats. Ultimately, going digital during lockdown has had its advantages and disadvantages, but I can firmly say this is an experience I will never forget.

*****

Thanks, Afiyah. I’m glad you found a chance to explore your passion for baking. Those cakes look divine!

Next up is Najam Iqbal, who studies BioMedicine at a London University. He lives in Dagenham and has some interesting things to share.

Hi, Najam. Let’s connect:

University Life Under COVID-19

My university closed in the first week of March. At the time, we thought it would only be a matter of a few months before we’d all be back. However, we were completely wrong. We were informed all of our lectures would now be taught online, using applications such as Zoom and Skype. Although my academic year is now complete, at the time, we were in the middle of four different modules with each module being taught by a different professor.

The online lectures began. It was clear from the start they were not going to be as successful as the lectures given in actual lecture halls. First of all, only around 10% of students were actually joining online and, secondly, they were not nearly as interactive and engaging as a ‘real’ lecture. Furthermore, some of our professors didn’t run any lectures at all, emailing us the information instead. It was up to us to learn it, in whichever way we saw fit.

Three out of four of my professors took this approach. I confess this was even more chaotic than having virtual lectures. Nonetheless, I attended all the lectures that were running, making sure I taught myself everything I needed, so this new style of learning wouldn’t impact my studies too much.

It now looks as though this will be how we will be taught for the foreseeable future. We have had confirmation that our first semester of the new academic year will be taught online. I study BioMedicine and it worries me as to what will happen for the practical lessons. There is much uncertainty and I want to get the most out of my degree!

*****

Excellent stuff. And, yes, Najam is my first-born. So, a super well done to you for writing something and not being too shy to speak up! I worry about the hefty fees both my sons are having to pay for their degrees when, to be frank, they haven’t studied much at all this year. Not because they haven’t wanted to, but because the lecturers haven’t been giving any lectures or seminars, online or otherwise!

From what they both tell me, universities will remain closed until January 2021. So, what are they paying for? Are the fees worth it? Surely, if lecturers aren’t teaching in the way the students need them to, the universities cannot justify the fees! I hope this dilemma will be addressed soon. As a mum, I don’t think this is fair. At the end of the day, the debts will have to be repaid by the students. End student fees right away!

Before I get completely carried away with my views, let’s head to Karachi, where two more students give us their take on digital dilemmas.

First up, let’s connect with Syeda Raniya Hussain:

Online Schooling

It had already been predicted that one day, technology would take over everything but nobody calculated it would be this soon. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the educational system has been shifted online and, for a school student like me, this has not been comfortable.

In fact, online school has taken its toll on everyone. Both students and teachers have had to face many issues. These include: slow internet connection, power outages (common here in Karachi), devices not working and there only being one laptop for all siblings to share.

If you thought teachers had no control over their classes before, be ready to be surprised. Excuses such as: “My mic isn’t working,” or changing names to reconnect, in order to make it look as though they have a problem with their internet, has become common for pupils. This makes it tough for teachers to tell who is lying and who isn’t. Moreover, we see our teachers losing touch. Despite all their hard work, their lessons are no longer as understandable as they once were.

Although we appreciate the efforts made to get us though, online school doesn’t work as a stand-alone solution.

*****

Thank you, Raniya, for your honesty. Next up, we have Fatima Ahmed, also from Karachi.

Hi, Fatima. Let’s connect:

Virtual takes the world

Corona has changed everything. It has officially taken control of the whole world. Who would have expected that our wish to have a six month’s holiday twice a year, would come true!

Everything has become virtual: from graduations, to taking classes and even assemblies. But it isn’t always easy to experience such a huge change and readily adapt. We’ve entered a new era: ‘The digital dimension’.

Pakistan is also acclimatising to all this. Schools have officially started to teach online, but it isn’t common for people here to have so many devices in one home. Sharing devices in any family can lead to feuds, which can be difficult to resolve. However, this is one of a hundred issues. We also have to tolerate the never-ending blackouts during classes. In some ways, it’s a good excuse, but it can start to get on your nerves!

Moreover, the class clown’s job is never done. Mischievous behaviour has reached a new level. Students can now remove the teacher – definitely ‘a golden day’, you’d assume. However, once, my teacher was so fed up with us they didn’t come back!

Online learning has proved to be a challenge for both students and teachers, and we are still grappling with the problem. I hope all of this ends soon, as I am missing my adventurous life back at school; the place I connect with friends and teachers, face to face.

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Thank you all for connecting with us this week. It seems as though education globally is struggling with the online shift. For the sake of our children, I hope it changes back soon.

Don’t forget to get your children involved in ‘the Summer Reading Challenge’. This is something my daughter enjoys each year. This year, you get to meet the Silly Squad.

Click here for more information: http://orlo.uk/QmYAe

That’s it for today. As always, I look forward to seeing you again next week for more ‘Connectors’.

You can connect to Farzana on Twitter: @farzanahakim

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine here.

Newspieces have shown how siblings in a family have had to access online study through one mobile phone, shared with the parent.