In March 2020, when we suddenly were quarantined and all school children and teachers had to switch to online mode, almost everyone, parents, teachers and students would have felt unsure about this question. At the time, it seemed that really, there is nothing good about remote teaching, especially for younger children.

In January 2021 Hungarian schools are in their second quarantine phase, when the younger grades are allowed to continue their education in the classroom, but children older than 14 go to school online.

The pains of change have affected everyone. The school has monitored the change of attitudes and fine-tuned the teaching and learning process based upon feedback from regular surveys that were sent out to pupils, parents and teachers.

Mr Tibor Tóth, math and science teacher thinks regular classroom work is more enjoyable, creative and holistic. ‘We miss spontaneous brainstorming and the students can only watch experiments on Youtube. The creative thinking process of a regular science class rarely works in a zoom meeting.”

But online work has its benefits too, it strengthens the willpower, develops independent study skills, and guides the students towards lifelong learning.

“14-year-olds and above, especially when motivated, although love being together with their peers and do need personal feedback from the teacher, are already mature enough and able to to work on their own.”

Liberal arts teachers agree that independent study and the students’ responsibility for their progress has improved. Ms Ágnes Soltész, teacher of literature enjoys the abundance of resources and the flexibility of an online lesson. “When I teach online, we can share a new idea with a click. Regular classroom work requires a stricter structure. My students told me that the overdose of screen time has had a novel effect on them. Most of them consciously turn off their phones or even leave it at home when they meet someone, to make sure they enjoy every minute of the real life encounter.” Ms Csilla Gál says in teaching history the independent research and cooperative, project-type study have become more prevalent online. “These skills will come handy for them at university and at work later.”

Ms Judit Kiss teaches English as a foreign language. “While speaking skills suffer, listening, reading and writing skills definitely improve, and so do time management and independent learning. ” 

French teacher Ms Csilla Szalóki observes that language learners, if they really want to learn, will improve their time management, discover new applications and use their time more creatively. “I noticed that my students cooperate more with one another online than during regular school. They have become study-buddies and seem to spend more time practising together. ”

Ms Ildikó Geng teaches choir, which is quite a challenge, since the smallest technical mishap like a second delay in the Internet reception makes choir work impossible. “The singers have to switch off their microphones, they can hear only the teacher and themselves, and watch the others’ mouths move. So it is rather a duett, and quite absurd actually to call it choir. But still, after all the serious online lessons, it is relaxing and fun to sing a little in the afternoon. Some students even have their parents come in and sing along. I occasionally ask them to improvise a melody for 4-5 lines of a psalm. Many of them would be too shy to sing it in front of the others, but they do not mind sending their little recordings just to me.”

Art and religion teacher Ms. Judit Vincze thinks working online helps some students in their art studies. “They learn new painting techniques online and enjoy researching art history. Art classes are sometimes tempting for less disciplined students to misbehave. Online, however, they have no space for making a noise and being in the center of attention, so they tend to do work more thoroughly. Religion classes also seem to benefit from more writing assignments. “Many students are more willing to open up and share about the faith in writing than in front of others.”

Physical education seems to suffer the most, although gym teachers have sent out exercise plans, and created a series of video recordings for each age group. “Only really motivated students exercise regularly,” says Mr Attila Molnár, head of the PE department. “About 25% of our students are active members of sports clubs and associations. Regarding them and the really motivated athletes, there is one benefit of online PE. The teachers spend more time to talk over the individual exercise routines and practise cura personalis.”

Synthesizing the survey results, Ms Edit Bukovszki, vice-principal lists benefits for both teachers, students and parents.

Teachers’ self confidence in applying a widening range of digital technologies has increased, and it will surely be beneficial in regular school work in the future. Posting assignments instead of real-time class work allows more freedom in planning one’s own workload.”

The vice principal noticed that being in lockdown has created greater appreciation for community events and gatherings the students used to take for granted.

Even long assemblies when they are required to behave seem quite attractive now, some students say. Also, there is a paradigm shift in their growing self awareness, they get to know their limitations and strengths and discover new resources in their lives. Some parents reported that spending more time together with their children may result in better family dynamics and less alienation between parents and children, especially during the painful years of adolescence.”

Magister Domonkos Kajtor SJ enjoys the freedom of the virtual world that brings people together without having to travel.

We organized a one-week-long online career orientation  event for 200 senior students to help them decide about higher education. 63 alumni shared their own experiences about various universities in Hungary and abroad. The alumni, not having to travel for hours from another city or country, were more willing and generous to contribute from the comfort of their bedrooms, therefore we could organize the conference on a much larger scale than ever. It was a great success. The young Jesuit also found that online spiritual direction works quite well. “Especially when we both use good headsets to exclude outside noise, and consciously avoid looking at ourselves on screen, we can concentrate on the other person. When two people are in the same room it may happen that they just sit in silence for ten minutes or longer. Online silence on the other hand may feel a bit awkward at first, but one can get used to it.”

Magister Domonkos thinks with the extensive use of digital technology the limitations of space and time that God gave us in the first few sentences of Genesis have gained a new meaning and focus.

Eliminating space and time limitations seems natural for this generation. The true pedagogical challenge is to teach the youth use technology without creating a harmful imbalance in their lives. We must help our students to achieve maturity in the use of digital technology so that it promotes life instead of alienation and infertility. They have to be able to  discern when and where it is necessary to be present body and soul to generate life.”