Why suspend E-learning when it reduces anxiety during outbreaks?

The Higher Education Ministry has suspended all teaching and learning activities, including e-learning in all public and private higher-learning institutions in the country, from 18 to 31 March 2020. We understand the rationale of suspending all face-to-face teaching and learning activities.  However, what is the rationale of suspending e-learning when the universities have the infrastructure and capacity to do so?  For example, our department (Social & Preventive Medicine) from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya had proactively converted all face-to-face lectures and seminars to distance learning via Zoom since 16 March 2020 as part of our Business Continuity Plan. The sessions were going on smoothly so why halt this process?  Students were happy with this arrangement as they can follow the Movement Control Order (a.k.a Forced Social Distancing) and learn from their homes comfortably.  They will not be burdened with catching up with all the missed sessions during these two weeks.

According to the COVID-19 Lockdown Guide on “How to manage anxiety and isolation during quarantine” from the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, “staying close to normal routine” is a way to manage anxiety.  Individuals should stick to their normal routine. For university students, attending lectures via e-learning in their homes fits this advice.  Sticking to the normal routine keeps one active and keep spirits up. It will be then be easier to readjust to the outside world when it is time to get back to work. No one knows if this Forced Social Distancing (Movement Control Order) will be extended.  E-learning during this period will help to keep the students occupied and not get bored.  In addition, they will not be burdened with catching up with all the missed classes.

In addition to staying close to normal routine, other measures to manage anxiety are:

  1. Avoid obsessing over the endless Coronavirus coverage. Too much free time leads to obsessive over-researching of the pandemic with consequent increased anxiety. Choosing only certain credible websites for a limited amount of time each day is advised. 
  2. Reframe “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself.  Set one’s sights on long-avoided tasks like reorganizing or creating that something one always wanted to do.
  3. Approach this time to slow down and focus on yourself. 
  4. Start a new quarantine ritual i.e. having something special to do during this time will help one look forward to each new day.
  5. Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if one’s anxiety becomes unmanageable. Reach out for help if one’s anxiety is reaching proportions that is unmanageable without professional help.

Prepared by: Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming & Datuk Professor Dr Awg Bulgiba Awg Mahmud.

Both are Professors in Epidemiology at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. Dr Awg Bulgiba is also Secretary-General for the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and President of the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health-KL

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