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Swedish students concerned about omicron response

Student Felix Almgren works in an empty classroom in Stockholm. (Nargis Babar/YJI)

STOCKHOLM – As Sweden faces the raging omicron variant of the coronavirus, students in Stockholm shared concerns and suggestions.

In a country notorious for its relaxed restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, Youth Journalism International spoke with four teens from the International English Gymnasium in Södermalm to hear their experiences about pandemic life and the new variant.

“People are on their toes,” said Felix Almgren, a 19-year-old in the school’s social sciences program. “And that makes for an uncomfortable learning environment.” 

Though Sweden has not imposed official lockdowns or major restrictions over the last two years, for students, the pandemic is a major talking point.

The debate of distance versus in-person learning plagued lunch tables and Zoom calls throughout the covid crisis and is a reemerging topic with omicron now in full force. 

In her final year at the high school, Viktoria Balla studies natural sciences. She found online school an insightful and positive experience.

“I feel like I had so much more time,” said Balla. “I could work at a comfortable pace and was less tired, so I got way more done. I could adjust my study space to my learning preferences more easily.”

For Balla, a partial distance-learning schedule is optimal in uncertain times, lessening crowds on campus as classes alternate between online and in-person learning.

“When we went back to full-time in-person classes, I realized for the first time how crowded it can get,” said Balla. “It’s frightening walking around corridors knowing a still harmful virus is constantly spreading.” 

But other students think remote classes are not a viable solution to this long-term problem.

To International Baccalaureate student Isak Halén, online school felt “artificial,” and as though his full academic potential was stunted.

In distance learning, classes can feel confined to a screen. (Nargis Babar/YJI)

For Halén, the challenges of online school were not only related to his studies but also to his high school experience. He said he never really got the chance to properly meet his classmates the first year.

“Many of the interactions you’d normally have with peers just didn’t happen,” Halén said.

Natasha Hallback, who is a first-year high school student studying economics, agreed that the pandemic’s long-standing tenure has been damaging to student life, but for a different reason.

“We’ve been in a pandemic for years now. Regardless of if it’s the delta variant, omicron variant or original strain, the constant worry surrounding covid has been detrimental to students’ mental wellbeing,” said Hallback.

During distance learning, Hallback said, it was also challenging to get support in essay-based subjects such as Swedish.

“There is, after all, a limit to how much teachers can help us,” Hallback said, adding that the problem only gets worse when classrooms are confined to a screen.

From the perspective of these students, distance learning should either be adopted part-time as a response to omicron, or not at all.

Instead,those interviewed felt that more regulations when physically in school may be the best alternative. 

“It feels to me that in Sweden, fear surrounding the virus is like a dying trend,” said Halén when asked about the current Swedish covid response.

Like the other students interviewed, Halén said general safety guidelines should remain in place and in-school learning ought to be used to some capacity.

Almgren sat in an empty classroom, surrounded by chairs strewn about, the darkening sky outside the window brimming with uncertainty.

Online school “is not realistic in the long term,” said Almgren. “You cannot effectively force people to live their lives a certain way and that is why the pandemic continues.”

Nargis Babar is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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