Updated: Jul 1
What do they have to say about education during the pandemic?
Enjoy Episode 5 of Bennett’s video series. Karima is a rising 11th-grader studying the IB curriculum in Qatar; she talks with Elizabeth about how her life and education changed with the advent of the pandemic; how she managed to transform particular challenges into self-discovery, the honing of new skills & the pleasure of finishing a thousand-piece puzzle.
(The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Elizabeth: Well, hello Karima! Thank you for being with me today. Let's start by hearing who you are, where you are, and what grade you're in!
Karima: Hi! My name is Karima. I go to ACS, and I'm in Qatar, currently. I'm from the United States of America, and I'm in Grade 10.
Elizabeth: Have you just finished Grade 10?
Elizabeth: Welcome to vacation!
Karima: Yes! I think we have two weeks left.
Elizabeth: So you are at the ACS School in Qatar. Take us back to the beginning of the pandemic - tell us what happened for you and your education when the pandemic first
Karima: So, when the pandemic first started, when the first news of it broke, we were all in school. A couple of older kids had free classes, so they heard about it first on social media and started telling people, and some people heard about it in their classes. But our teachers said, you know, "unless the school says something, you still have to come to school tomorrow." By the end of the day, I think it was during the last period, they let us go early. They told us that our parents were coming to pick us up and that we wouldn't be coming back to school.
I think everybody was just shocked, and we were all thinking, "okay, it will probably be a week or two, and then we're going to come back." I think the first feelings were, you know, excitement, and then, kind of scared, because, you know, this was something really big that was happening all around the world, and it was finally happening here. It was scary.
Firstly, we just started online school. It was hectic. We had to go onto the platform that we use, and then find the links, reach out to the teachers... all of that was new. We had a few days when we were just "off" and everybody was at home trying to compose themselves. And then they just started online school. It was really, really confusing.
Elizabeth: What did online school consists of for you, initially?
Karima: It wasn't full days of school; they were shorter because we were all online. We did all the classes like they were full classes - we sat through all the classes as teachers would explain stuff to us. and then they'd say "okay, start this worksheet," and we'd all stay online [while doing so].
Elizabeth: So, you basically stayed online for the remainder of your ninth-grade year. Tell us about this year.
Karima: When the year started, we came back to [in-person] school. It was a bit shocking. I was a bit nervous - I'd been online for so long, and I didn't really want to meet people again! and then came back to school. But it was good; I liked it! I got to see my friends again, and we got to meet our teachers again. We were social distancing and we had this whole process - they'd split us into groups of either "red" or "blue". If you were red, you would come on certain days of the week, and if you were blue you'd come on other days of the week.
I was scared to be separated from my friends, but luckily, we got to stay together. There are around fifteen students in each class, so they split us up into four classes. It was interesting, being so far apart from each other, we all had to wear masks... it was really uncomfortable at first, but I guess I've gotten used to it now.
Elizabeth: That's very interesting, what you said - you've been online for so long that you were apprehensive, or a little bit scared, to come back and be with people. You had to readjust to the social aspect. How did it feel once you did adjust? Did it start to feel normal over time?
Karima: Yeah, it felt normal, but at the same time a little bit awkward, because we still couldn't interact with people, and still had to stay a distance apart, and wear masks.
Elizabeth: Throughout the year, were you able to stay in person?
Karima: There were a couple of instances where we had to quarantine because they'd get a call from one of the students' parents saying that somebody tested positive. Then, they took the closest students, pulled them out of their classes, and put them in quarantine.
At some point, somebody got COVID and they just took her whole grade and said, "don't come to school, stays home and self-quarantine." For our grade, in particular, it happened three times within a month, so I had to get tested [and resume online learning] three times. Yeah, I didn't like it, but, you know, it was necessary.
Elizabeth: Talk a little bit about your online experience.
Karima: The online experience was hard, honestly, because... it wasn't hard to show up for the classes - that was the easy part. It was hard to listen to the teacher talking the whole time, actually understanding what they were saying, and not get distracted. It was also hard to do the work. They'd give us work, which we could do in class, but could also choose to do later because we had all this time. And so, it was really easy to procrastinate, then rush through the work later, and not do much in class, because you don't really have to, because nobody was "there".
Elizabeth: How did it affect you and your study habits over time?
Karima: Before this whole pandemic, I was really busy. I had a lot of things going on, from after-school activities at school to sports, and I didn't spend much time at home unless it was doing homework, sleeping, or eating! So, I didn't have much time to procrastinate. Every time I got home I just had to do my work and get everything done soon as I could.
After quarantine, all of that was stopped. I had all this free time to do whatever I wanted, and it was kind of hard to organize my time properly, with all the time that I had, to be productive! At some point, I had to be like, "you know, I'm not getting anything done. I need to focus on making a schedule so that I actually understand the things that I have to do in the day." So, at some point, I started getting things done.
Elizabeth: You were very busy before, and your life essentially slowed down - that was a pretty common thing for everybody. How did that feel? We talk a lot about over-scheduling our kids, or everybody's doing too much. Looking back, was it nice to have fewer things in your schedule? How has that sat with you?
Karima: I missed it at some point... I just missed all the things that we were doing... but I also had time to appreciate the things that I have. I didn't have much time to spend in my room, so my room was kind of boring, but now I have time to decorate my room and make it look more like myself. I could spend more time talking with my siblings and my family. I feel like I've actually discovered more hobbies - hobbies that I previously never had time to discover. But I still do miss doing my outdoor activities.
Elizabeth: What happened to that activity life? Life beyond the classroom, once you went back to school?
Karima: So, we started quarantine at the start of the summer. Summer here is really bad - it's so hot and you can't go outside at all, so I didn't do much outdoor activity, but we started exercising with my aunt online through Zoom, so that was really fun. Also, our basketball club started virtual classes, which filled up some of my time. I also started doing puzzles, and I finished a thousand-piece puzzle, which I was really excited about...!
Elizabeth: You've lived all kinds of combinations and configurations of education this past year. We were talking a little bit about the pros and the cons of online learning, and what was hard for you. Any other things that were challenges for you being online?
Karima: It was a really, really stressful year for me because I'm doing the IB curriculum. So grades are really important. I had my exhibition and I had all of my end-of-year portfolios. There were a lot of things going on, and it was hard to do it all when we were jumping into online learning, and sometimes we were back in school, but then we weren't interacting with other teachers enough for them to help us as they could in class - we were all stuck on Zoom. And through a lot of that, I had to work alone. I felt really stressed out, and that I wasn't going to get through it.
But, at some point, I had to pick myself up and start organizing myself! My mom made me make multiple big schedules that I could stick up in my room so that I could stay organized with my big deadlines. I started to notice the symptoms I have when I'm really stressed. I started to get to know myself more.
Elizabeth: Your relationship with your teachers - how was that affected?
Karima: If had any questions, I could ask my teacher during the class. Usually, after class, if I had any questions, I would email the teacher. Well... I've never emailed more teachers in my life than in quarantine! I had to become a pro at writing emails!
I think our relationship with our teachers has really been affected. I didn't get to spend much time talking with our teachers outside of class, so it was hard to really bond with them.
Elizabeth: So, the pandemic has really evolved education overnight. Are there aspects of your education over the last year that you think were particularly good?
Karima: Well, we talked about the emailing part. Also, for my 10th-grade exhibition, multiple people who I think are experts in the topic that I was going to take... [Zoom buffers]
Elizabeth: Talk about your 10th-grade exhibition, what is that?
Karima: Basically, for the IB, they have us make an end-of-year summary of our whole MRP school life. So, everything we've learned, all of the skills we've been building up come together in an end-of-year exhibition. We choose a topic and start following the IB process of doing research and following all those steps towards making our final products and doing our end-of-year reflection. Most of the grades come from the final essay that we write about the whole process that we took during the whole exhibition.
My project was about microaggression. That came from learning about the Black Lives Matter movement that was happening in the United States, which I got to know of during the summer when we were all in quarantine, and I started researching more. For my research, I wanted to interview an expert on this topic. So, I picked five or six people and sent them emails - one of them responded and agreed to a Zoom meeting, where I could ask her questions. I was really, really excited about that because I'd never actually had a meeting with somebody, online or in-person, who was an expert in a topic like that - it was really exciting.
Elizabeth: Who was that?
Karima: Her name is Dr. Celeste Malone. She's a professor and was teaching about microaggression, so I wanted to interview her because I was focusing on microaggression in education.
Elizabeth: So you felt, in a way, that your online life had prepared you for reaching out to her! And so, you interviewed her... you've honed your emailing and your interviewing skills, and you've also learned a lot about yourself.
How's your focus when you're online? Like, in an online class versus an in-person class.
Karima: I get really distracted when I'm in online classes. It's hard to stay "in" the class because a lot of the time, the teacher's not really interacting with us -it's hard to think that the teacher making eye contact with us. It's definitely easier to stay on track in class when you're surrounded by people who are also learning, and the teacher is right there.
Elizabeth: This is your platform - send a message to adults who are thinking about education! Any last thoughts, comments, perspectives, or observations that you'd like to share?
Karima: I feel that I just didn't know how important it was to have human interactions until the pandemic. Our teachers tried really hard to get as much of a community feeling as they could. I was in a drama production on Zoom and it was really, really fun to do. It was meant to bring our community at school back together and have us connect more with each other. I really enjoyed it, but I still missed talking with my friends. I didn't get to see a lot of my friends because they only show their foreheads on Zoom!
I just want people to remember that we're all human, that every single person needs some sort of human interaction, and that the most important part is to bring a sense of community. - even if you're online.
Elizabeth: Do you have a favorite word? It can be in any language.
Karima: Yeah! It's in Arabic. My favorite word is ihsan.
It basically means putting all of your heart into something. It's when you've tried so hard and people can see it because you work really hard and you only give your best when you do something.
Elizabeth: Well, thank you so much, Karima.
*Recorded June 2021
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