Institutionalized Policies and Student Attitudes and Mental Health Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Institutionalized Policies and Student Attitudes and Mental Health Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Yamina El Kirat El Allame, Oumaima Elghazali
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9297-7.ch004
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The COVID-19 pandemic stormed the world and introduced new ways of approaching life, including abrupt decisions by policymakers imposing new educational practices to ensure a safe and healthy environment for learning. Some learners welcomed these imposed policies and expressed their contentment with online learning, while others opposed it. This study aims to present the experience of a group of 54 students at Mohammed V University with a course adopting a blended approach. The objectives of the study are to investigate the students' attitudes towards the imposed policies of learning in a virtual classroom and find out about their level of anxiety and stress in these contexts. The study tried to answer questions related to 1) Moroccan Public Speaking students' views about their public speaking development in a virtual setting; 2) the students' perceptions of stress and anxiety, as a reaction to the unprecedented shift to online education, while presenting a public speaking speech in a virtual setting; and 3) the strengths and weaknesses of virtual and face-to-face learning.
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4.1 Introduction

The COVID-19 outbreak in Morocco in March 2020 forced the country to go on an immediate total lockdown which limited the citizens’ mobility and redefined the ways to execute one’s daily tasks. Accordingly, the Ministry of National Education Vocational Training and Scientific Research (MOE) in Morocco issued an official policy to all schools in Morocco, public and private, to stop the F2F learning and recommended seven million Moroccan learners to transition immediately to virtual learning as a safe and healthy learning environment. Correspondingly, the MOE expanded its TilmideTICE platform for elementary, middle, and high school students to access content on different subjects. The Ministry also created and made available the Microsoft Teams platform to enable synchronous learning and streamed lessons on national TV channels to overcome the digital divide which might be problematic in certain regions of the country (USAID, 2020). However, this forced shift to emergency remote teaching in Morocco in an attempt to secure a healthy and safe learning environment created not only discomfort for some and opportunities for others but also unraveled areas for improvement. Different existing, but rarely explored, practices are now taking the lead in learning and teaching. Virtual classrooms, webinars, virtual conferences, and digitalized practices are becoming a common practice in Moroccan education. However, different aspects need to be considered for this shift to be successful, including the students’ views about this shift. Teaching the EFL four skills online is not a new practice. Yet, as the F2F approach has instilled in the students’ certain behaviors and preferences, some are reluctant to join the wave of virtual learning. Several students do, on the other hand, find it fitting and appropriate to their learning style, personality, and living conditions. The present study aims to reveal these students’ views, perceptions, and attitudes towards virtual learning. The main objective is to find out about the challenges they faced, including psychological stressors, and the way these can be overcome. The term virtual classroom in this study refers to the virtual/online exchange between the learners and instructors and the provision of teaching materials that are adapted to the virtual setting (Kimovski et al., 2001). The present study is organized into four sections, the first of which is dedicated to a review of the literature on virtual learning. The second section introduces the methodological aspects of the study, while the third section presents the data analysis, focusing on comparing and contrasting the students’ views and arguments. The fourth section of the chapter explores the feelings of anxiety and stress reported by the students and how these feelings are experienced both in the physical and virtual classrooms. On this matter, both the students' and teachers’ perspectives are presented, discussed, and interpreted. The chapter concludes with the students’ suggestions and recommendations for overcoming stress and anxiety associated with a public speaking class and how they should be implemented in both F2F and virtual classroom settings.

Key Terms in this Chapter

F2F Classroom: A classroom where both students and instructors are physically present for a learning session.

Blended Approach: A balanced approach to learning that uses both asynchronous and synchronous approaches forms of learning.

Asynchronous Approach: An autonomous approach to learning where students are assigned content to cover on their own.

Stress: An unpleasant feeling triggered by the inability to cope with a given situation or event.

Synchronous Approach: An approach to learning which relies on real-time learning sessions where both students and instructors are connected and participating simultaneously in the learning process.

Virtual Classroom: A classroom where students and instructors are virtually present for a learning session.

Healthy Educational Environment: A safe learning environment where learners are not expressing unpleasant feelings.

Anxiety: An uncontrollable feeling of extreme worry over a situation or event.

Tech Savvy: The ability to operate different technological gadgets, platforms, and software.

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