In the post-pandemic era, online education has emerged as a viable alternative to traditional bricks-and-mortar schools. With its flexibility, accessibility and diverse range of courses, online learning has gained popularity among students of all ages. However, concerns regarding the holistic development and wellbeing of students within the online schooling environment have come to the forefront. A perception exists that the absence of face-to-face interaction may hamper the emotional, social, and psychological aspects of a student’s education. As a result, a crucial question has arisen: Can online schools meaningfully address the wellbeing needs of their students?
At Cambridge International, we are interested in the complex relationship between online education and student wellbeing and, in this blog, our Online Schools Development Manager, Louis Bone, will highlight some of the strategies employed by online schools to support their students’ mental health and wellbeing, and identify the ways online schools can develop their provision even further in the future.
Wellbeing Programmes in Online Schools
Cambridge International surveyed Cambridge online schools to find out more about how they support students’ wellbeing. All the schools surveyed said they offer dedicated wellbeing programmes such as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) or Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE), with the majority of schools making these programmes compulsory for students. This proactive approach demonstrates a commitment to preparing students for potential challenges before they arise, ensuring that their emotional and social needs are well-cared for in the online learning environment. However, it was observed that the definition of wellbeing used by online schools was sometimes quite narrow, usually focussing on mental, social and emotional domains and rarely included other aspects such as physical wellbeing.
Specialist support is readily available in most online schools, ensuring that students have access to the assistance they might need. These support services often come in the form of dedicated counsellors, wellbeing specialists, therapists, and mentors. Parents and children are made aware of these options, providing reassurance that more help is available if required although access to these specialists is often reactive, typically triggered by a specific problem or issue faced by a student. Moreover, the survey found that some online schools acknowledge the stretched nature of these specialist roles, as they often overlap with other responsibilities.
How the teacher makes a difference
Undoubtedly, the role of the teacher is, and will always be, vital in addressing the wellbeing needs of students. Online schools recognise that a strong teacher-student relationship makes a profound difference in students’ lives. This connection creates a sense of safety, fostering a conducive learning environment where students feel encouraged to work harder and excel academically.
However, building relationships in an online setting may require more effort from teachers, as they do not have the advantage of face-to-face interactions. Online educators believe that this extra effort can lead to even stronger relationships than in traditional bricks-and-mortar schools.
Programmes & extra-curricular clubs
Many online schools use homerooms and form groups to support the wellbeing of their students. A homeroom refers to a designated virtual space or group where students meet regularly for various purposes to foster a sense of community. These group sessions, often held at the beginning of each day, serve as a platform for fostering relationships between students and their tutors or peers and provide students with a designated space to discuss any issues that may arise, offering them a supportive outlet. Additionally, these sessions enable tutors and coaches to identify potential concerns early on and refer students to specialist support if necessary. In some instances, online schools have introduced ‘learning coaches’ who assume a similar role to form tutors or homeroom leaders but focus on monitoring students individually, rather than in a group setting.
Approximately half of Cambridge online schools offer free extra-curricular clubs as an option for students. These clubs are typically led or moderated by teachers, with some allowing students to take the lead in organising activities. The clubs serve as a means of bringing students together in a non-pressured environment, fostering socialisation, and facilitating the formation of new friendships. Moreover, they provide a sense of community within the online school setting and appeal to a wide range of interests, such as psychology, coding, debating or even DJ’ing.
Monitoring students’ wellbeing & Cambridge’s Wellbeing Check
One notable and more recent approach is the use of specialised applications to track and assess student wellbeing, with some online schools even making it compulsory. Two prominent examples used by some Cambridge online schools are EI Pulse and Thrively, which have gained recognition for their effectiveness in promoting student wellbeing.
In addition, a number of online schools have embraced the Cambridge Wellbeing Check, a comprehensive tool that goes beyond mere monitoring and delves into the day-to-day experiences of students. This check assesses various aspects of student wellbeing, including their emotional state, stress levels, exam pressures, and coping mechanisms for change. By utilising this tool, schools gain valuable insights into the specific needs of their students, allowing them to tailor support and interventions accordingly. Furthermore, the Cambridge Wellbeing Check generates actionable reports that enable collaboration between teachers, students, and parents in supporting the overall wellbeing of learners.
So how are online schools seeking to further develop their wellbeing provision in the future? Online schools are exploring …
- Better measurement and monitoring of student wellbeing, with a focus on adopting effective tools and methodologies.
- Using physical spaces where face-to-face sessions with students can take place, recognising the value of in-person interactions.
- Introducing further extra-curricular activities, as online schools better understand the role of these activities in fostering socialisation, community, and a well-rounded educational experience.
- Expanding counselling and wellbeing support services to cater to the diverse needs of students.
- Adjusting academic programmes to be more flexible and adaptive, with the goal of proactively preventing wellbeing issues.
- Offering international trips to students, recognising the potential benefits of these experiences in promoting personal growth and global understanding.
- Exploring how the advent of high-stakes exams online in the future may impact student wellbeing and alleviate the burden on students with anxiety issues, eliminating the need for them to travel to physical exam centres.
The rapidly evolving landscape of online education has brought forth both opportunities and challenges in nurturing the wellbeing of students. While online schools have made significant strides in addressing the holistic needs of their students, there is an ongoing commitment to further develop and refine their wellbeing provisions. The proactive measures taken by online schools demonstrate a genuine dedication to fostering the emotional and social growth of students. As the online education landscape continues to evolve, the focus on nurturing student wellbeing remains a priority, ensuring that students not only excel academically but also thrive emotionally and socially in the digital era of education.
This blog was written by our Online Schools Development Manager, Louis Bone, on behalf of the Online Education team at Cambridge International.