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College life all changed


ADJUSTING David Hughes from Kilmaine is a second year student in Athlone IT.


Mike Finnerty

DESPITE so much of the national Covid-19 conversation focussing on education since last March, you’d be forgiven for thinking that third-level students must be managing just fine.
Old enough to look after themselves, their Leaving Certs a thing of the past, their stories don’t tend to feature as much on primetime television or in the national newspapers.
But people like David Hughes from Kilmaine have been hit hard by the pandemic.
A second-year student in Sports Science with Exercise Physiology at Athlone IT, the 21 year-old has been studying from his home in south Mayo for the last five weeks.
He has built a new routine, controls what he can control and tries to stay positive. But he admits that a lack of social interaction, as well as screen weariness and the endless flow of Covid-19 facts and figures every day of the week, can be challenging at times.
“The first few weeks weren’t too bad; you’re just trying to get into a routine,” he told The Mayo News. “But there’s no doubt that ‘Zoom fatigue’, which is actually a thing, has set in over the last few weeks.
“The best way to describe it is, you start with a lecture online at 9am and you’re constantly looking at the screen all day, bar a few small breaks here and there.
“The lecturers try their best to keep classes to around 40 minutes and to keep things interesting, but your attention span starts to wane. And it’s not healthy anyway, sitting looking at a screen for hours on end.
“The most thing I miss is definitely the social interaction,” he continued. “You only realise how important interacting with other people is when you go to college. For your confidence and for your mood, as well as in terms of actually learning.
“Personally, I find it harder to take things in and to learn online, as well. In a lab you can ask a lecturer a question or talk through something with your class. But with online, you end up having to send emails to ask questions, which are like writing a letter.
“Plus, sometimes there could be 60 or 70 people online for a class, and it can feel awkward to try and ask a question. Some people end up over-thinking it.
“You hear people saying, ‘Technology is the future’. And you wonder when things do go back to some sort of normality, will they keep online or recorded lectures?
“My opinion would be, ‘No, if it’s not broken then don’t fix it’.”
David Hughes talks a lot of sense.
A member of the Mindspace Mayo Youth Panel, he has spoken openly in the past about his mental health and is one of the county’s brightest minds on the subject. Since this latest lockdown started, the former Ballinrobe Community School student has developed a daily routine that helps to keeps his anxiety under control.
“Some days you think you’re on top of it and other days you don’t; it’s like a seesaw,” he explained. “I try to keep to a routine as if I’m in college. I get to bed early, get a minimum of eight hours’ sleep. Sleep is king for me, it’s the foundation of everything really. I get up early too and exercise before I start lectures.”
What has David learned most from the experience of the last eleven months?
“That I’m more able to adapt to situations than I thought I was,” he replied.
“A lot of people don’t like change and I would have been one of them. But as we’ve all learned, so much of what happened since last March has been outside our control. You just have to control the controllables. I think a lot of people have built up a lot of resilience in the last year.”