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High school union describes return to distance learning as "worst thing that could happen"

The Union President of Upper Secondary School Students believes that distance learning arrangements should only be employed as a last resort.

Lukiolaisten liiton puheenjohtaja Emilia Uljas.
The President of Union of Upper Secondary School Students, Emma Uljas. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

The Union of Upper Secondary School Students has made an appeal to decision makers regarding rumours that the new school year may resume remotely due to the worsening pandemic situation.

The independent, student-led group described a return to distance learning as "the worst thing that could happen."

Speaking on Yle's A-studio current affairs programme on Wednesday, Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Kirsi Varhila, hinted that contact teaching may be curtailed as Finland's infection rate increases.

Health agency THL reported more than 600 coronavirus cases on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with a further 765 infections recorded on Thursday and 748 on Friday.

Distance learning has not only put a strain on students' mental health but also created a learning gap, and therefore the measure should be a last resort in curbing the epidemic, according to the president of the union, Emma Uljas.

"Uncertainty poses a tough challenge to high school students. We have young people who are starting their first year in high school and many fear that they may have to start in a new school and environment remotely," Uljas said.

Students most likely to return to classrooms, says Education Minister

Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) addressed the rumours on Thursday, saying that distance learning will only be used as a "last resort" measure even if the coronavirus situation in Finland continues to deteriorate.

The minister added that young pupils will most likely return to classrooms as normal when schools reopen again across the country from next week.

"It is well known that the past year has had a major impact on the well-being of children and young people, and has also created a learning gap in both primary and secondary education. From the perspective of well-being and closing this learning gap, the return to contact teaching is very important," Andersson told Yle.

Whether "young students" includes all pupils in upper secondary education, however, remains unclear at this stage.

Young people have already paid a heavy price

According to Uljas, 67 percent of high school students have felt that distance learning has negatively impacted the quality of their education, adding that three out of four high school students have further experienced a decline in their well-being.

"If we take into account all of these problems, which have followed from distance learning, then ending up again in that situation would actually be the worst thing that could happen at this point," Uljas said, adding that she agrees with the Education Minister that distance learning should not be among the first measures employed to curb infections.

"We cannot have a situation similar to last autumn, when an 18-year-old high school student was able to go to a bar, but not to school. This is simply not sustainable," Uljas said.

Restrictions also affected some students more than others, with many able to revise for the finals at school while others did not receive the chance, Uljas added. The high school students' representative highlighted that young people have already paid a heavy price throughout this epidemic.

"Restrictions have hit young people the most. We have been living with uncertainty for a year and a half and it is high time that we were finally listened to and given the opportunity to live without our well-being deteriorating," Uljas said.

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