As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, schoolchildren have turned to Zoom for an education.
For those with access to devices and internet connection, online education started with the entertaining novelty of Zoom backgrounds and a cacophony of background noise.
But not too long after the mute button was mastered, came an unwelcome phenomenon: ‘Zoom fatigue’, 2020’s new definition of burnout.
Ella, a student at St Paul’s Girls’ School, spends all day on Zoom logging into virtual workouts, writing clubs and online lessons.
Starting at 8:30 in the morning, the 15-year-old’s day is not over when she finishes Zoom, with GCSE coursework and rowing training dominating her free time.
Agreeing with the theories behind Zoom fatigue, Ella said: “Frankly it’s quite taxing, I end up pretty wiped out and my friends and I have experienced headaches from being on screen a lot.
“Everyone’s so wiped out, exhausted and irritated from being on Zoom all day.”
And with 38% of the 1.7 million global Zoom users experiencing tiredness and burnout from video calls, and 24% confirming that they find virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting, it’s no surprise.
An aspiring writer, Ella participated in a competitive examination and interview process in order to secure a place at the Hammersmith-based school which prides itself on academic excellence.
But with the UK’s third wave shutting schools yet again, Ella now has a cleared-out storage room as her classroom and a tiny square on the screen as her teacher.
She said: “The thing that I’ve noticed is that we’re covering more in class, but without the interaction and discussion with the rest of the class I’m not really learning much of the information.”
When questioned if she’d prefer going back to school, the GCSE-year student said: “100% yes, school learning is much better.
“But the cases are high enough that it definitely warrants the closures.”
And whilst Ella keeps herself busy with work, reading and online rowing technique classes, she highlights the limitations of education through Zoom.
She added: “When you leave a class, that’s the end. You can’t talk to your friends at break times. Online school is quite lonely.
“I can talk to my family during lunch, but again its three people and they all have things they need to do as well.”
And whilst Zoom presents some day-to-day pressure, Ella said that the main pressure right now is the situation over exams.
With Gavin Williamson cancelling public exams for the second year in a row, A Level and GCSE students face uncertainty over the question of internal exams or teacher assessed grades.
She said: “Exam boards are saying different things and teachers don’t know what’s going on.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen and I’m worried if my results are going to suffer.”
And Zoom or no Zoom, Ella details how some of her classmates are studying in every waking moment in anticipation of exams whilst others are struggling to be anything but apathetic towards their studies.
She added: “We’re all not really sure what we’re working towards or if there is even going to be exams.
“I think right now we need to try get the infection rate down and get back to school before Easter or at least summer.”
Clocking off anytime between 4 and 8:30pm, Ella hopes that the loneliness, exhaustion and fatigue of online school can end soon.