As the U of S extends remote learning, students' union calls for more mental health supports
The president of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) says more support is needed to help students who are struggling with online learning.
Earlier this week, the university announced it is extending its current remote learning plan as the province faces a fifth COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant
All classes will be delivered remotely until Feb. 7 instead of the original plan of Jan. 24.
“We believe that by extending for this time, it allows individuals to receive their booster shots which does have a positive impact in terms of infectivity and consequences with the Omicron variant of concern,” said Darcy Marciniuk, the chair of the university’s pandemic response and recovery team.
“In addition, we believe with the monitors and the signals to date from the cases, the modelling and the wastewater, that by Feb. 7, things should be starting to simmer down a bit.”
According to Marciniuk, some colleges including medicine and nursing, veterinary medicine, law and business still have in-person classes — making up about 20 to 25 per cent of people on campus with the rest online.
USSU president Tasnim Jaisee said the delay and uncertainty around when students will return to the classroom is causing stress and anxiety among students.
“Students are feeling disappointed that our return is being postponed. I know that for many students, in-person classes are very important and also just to get a feel of our campus culture is something that they’re missing out on,” she told CTV News.
Jaisee said the transition to online learning throughout the pandemic has been hard not only for first and second year students who haven’t been able to have a typical university experience but also on students in their later years who have had to adjust to this new way of learning.
“It is a very difficult time because we are taking these classes online to ensure safety, most students are staying at home, not having exposure to the outside world just in terms of social interaction, can become very difficult on students not being able to socialize and also not being able to make those connections with students on campus, not being able to make those connections with professors. It can all become very difficult and it is not a type of university experience that many of us who came to university expected when we started.”
While Jaisee said she understands the reasoning behind the decision, she said it is important to ensure there are enough mental health supports available to students on campus.
She said the USSU has had discussions with the Student Wellness Centre and the Student Affairs and Outreach Team and has heard they are seeing a rise in students seeking mental health resources.
“It‘s important that the wait times for those offices do not extend and that students are able to get help and support in a timely manner.”
Jaisee adds that it is crucial for professors to be considerate and empathetic of students at this time.
“It is a very difficult time on campus and that bit of help can really go a long way to making an impact on students’ education,” she said.
Marciniuk said resources are available for students, faculty and staff who are having trouble or want someone to talk to.
“I think it’s very important that this not be kept a secret. If somebody wants to talk to somebody, just reach out and if you’re not sure who to reach out to, reach out to somebody and we’ll ensure that we connect and try and bring the best possible resources to help out,” he said.
The USSU is also asking for timely communication from university administration about when students are expected to return to in-person learning so that they can prepare.
"Letting students have enough information to be able to plan ahead of time, and I think it’s especially critical for students who are coming out of the province, such as housing and just living conditions, all of these variables that students have to balance besides their education,” Jaisee said.
Marciniuk said the university has a whole team looking at the COVID-19 situation on a daily basis to provide as much understanding about what’s going on and when it will be safe for students to come back on campus.
“We’re trying to provide the best possible evidence and support of the health and wellness of our community with as much foresight and advanced notice, so that that uncertainty can be minimized,” he said.
“We’re trying to allow people to trust that the measures that we’re implementing — vaccination, the masking, our testing and such — will allow them to have a really safe environment when on-campus activity does resume.”
Marciniuk said the university does not anticipate remote learning will be extended past the Feb. 7 deadline, adding that that date will give students two weeks of in-person learning before the February break.
He encourages people in the school community to get their booster shot if they are eligible before Feb. 7.
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