Study highlights students’ resilience despite COVID challenges

A shift to virtual platforms by universities in Kenya as a result of the pandemic will motivate universities to pay more attention to the quality of delivery, content and the trustworthiness of the online assessment modes, thus protecting students’ academic wellbeing, according to a research paper published in the journal, Higher Education Research & Development.

Incorporating innovative measures that address psychological trauma of students in the event of a future crisis is now critical to support resilient students.

The study, ‘Perceptions on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on university students’ wellbeing in Kenya’ was conducted by Zhimin Liu and Gladys Mutinda, both researchers at the college of public administration, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China.

They interviewed a sample of undergraduate and postgraduate students in both a public and a private university in Kenya.

Their study illustrates the implications of the pandemic on students’ academic wellbeing (accessibility and inequality, teaching and learning); on psychological wellbeing (stress and anxiety, stigma and discrimination) and on social wellbeing (the social distance and increased online presence, increased substance abuse).

The pandemic, the study says, affected undergraduate participants’ academic wellbeing as their access to face-to-face classes was stopped.

However, their resilience to ensure continuity in their academics was evident in their initiatives to participate in group work with fellow peers on social media platforms, and this move is commendable.

On the other hand, postgraduate participants felt their inability to carry on their research endeavours negatively influenced their academic wellbeing.

Students at the private university felt that their institution was making considerable strides with regard to their preparedness to shift to online learning platforms, which students from the public institution seemed dissatisfied with.

Much work, but ‘small victories’

“This finding reflects on the tangible steps that Kenyan institutions are taking towards fully incorporating online learning but also evidence that there is much work to be done with regard to protecting academic quality,” according to the study.

“While considering the negative implications of COVID-19 is essential, small victories are not to be ignored,” it continues.

“An undergraduate’s reflection on how online learning reduced learning anxieties … thus improving her class participation, reflects on the vital role that online learning has in catering to students’ diverse needs,” states the journal article.

The findings also revealed students’ anxieties concerning how assessments for virtual work would be carried out and whether these new modes would affect overall performance.

This finding is a call to universities to find sustainable ways of assessing the academic work of students conducted online and reaffirm students on the same assessments to improve their confidence.

The findings also reveal students’ resilience to find positive coping mechanisms by using support groups on social media platforms, indicating that social media can be used positively to ensure students’ psychological wellbeing is fully supported.

The study indicates that most undergraduate students reflected on the importance of physical space for social interactions while postgraduate students viewed social distancing in a positive light as they took this time to bond with their family members more closely.

This illustrates the ability of students to view and turn adverse events to their advantage, despite going through the current pandemic.

Positive use of social media

“We envision that a shift to virtual platforms will cause universities to pay more attention to the quality of delivery, content and trustworthiness of the assessment modes of online learning, thus protecting students’ academic wellbeing,” said the study researchers.

“Incorporating innovative measures that address psychological trauma on students in the event of a future crisis is now critical to support resilient students.

“The need to focus on socialisation guidelines that consider students’ social wellbeing will be reflected on, especially on using social media positively to mitigate loneliness, avoid unnecessary over-indulgence in substances and provide a community of support.”

As universities in Kenya try to resume some semblance of normalcy, the study shows that it is evident that these institutions are keen on supporting students’ wellbeing while ensuring that health and safety precautions are in place.

The researchers say the concept of student wellbeing is becoming a key consideration within higher education research.

The pandemic has affected students’ academic wellbeing, as all learning had to shift online, a state that threw most students’ learning into disarray.

The pandemic has affected the psychological wellbeing of individuals globally, causing pressure leading to suboptimal mental health.

Research has shown that the psychological consequences of the pandemic have affected young adults in universities, causing them to be more vulnerable to mental health challenges.

For example, research conducted among students in Ethiopia indicated that the psychological impact of the pandemic caused an increase in levels of stress, anxiety and depression.