I’m a High School Student. I Don’t Want Online Learning to End.

‘Just as we had to shrink our lives by living inside, we also need to expand how we define public education.’

High school student Ligaya Chinn studies for her AP Biology test in her bedroom at her home in Oakland, CA on May 7, 2020. Photo: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

This op-ed was written by Rory Selinger, a 14-year-old high school student in New York State.

There are many things I miss about my pre-pandemic life. Attending school in person is not one of them.

I’m a very motivated high school student. I like school. But switching to online learning has been the best thing to happen to my education. It’s reduced the social pressure I feel taking exams, allowed me to get immediate feedback from teachers, and given me the freedom to embrace my own unique learning style.

One thing I hope people now realize is that education is not a one-size-fits-all model. While the self-disciplined nature of remote learning is not for everyone, it has allowed students like me to flourish unimpeded by the challenges presented by typical classroom settings.

For me, attending my public school online consists of synchronous classes five days a week and homework assigned daily. This workload requires comparable dedication to in-person learning. My classes begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m. My teachers offer immediate feedback on the questions and comments that arise during class. Students are free to type and send questions whenever they have them without needing to wait to raise their hands.

I know I’m fortunate: My school’s program works well, but many do not. Some are entirely asynchronous. Others only offer live instruction a few times per week. I also realize that not all districts can provide up-to-date technology for students, and many homes lack good internet connections and computers of their own. Not all students have a dedicated workspace free from distraction, and too many others are dealing with much more severe challenges. I am old enough not to need monitoring to complete assignments, and lucky that if I happen to need assistance, both of my parents are available because they are working from home.

But school districts that have managed to pull off online education should pay close attention to its lessons. By learning away from the school campus, I, like many other students, am spared from some of the common social pressures associated with the typical high school experience. I attend school in an academically rigorous district that fosters a grade-obsessed culture. By taking away this element of grade anxiety, students can focus primarily on learning the curriculum.

Taking exams online no longer comes with the added pressure of judging how long one is taking to complete the test compared to one’s peers. And when test results are in, there is no longer the need to worry about the grade comparison that comes hand in hand with them being returned. When remote learners take exams, they receive their results at home and are only competing with themselves, focusing on meeting their own standards for excellence. By contrast, at school it is easy to get caught up in the torturous cycle of heightened academic expectations. In school, you are tempted to view how you are doing compared to other students’ achievements, even though not everyone has the same scholastic strengths. Having the freedom to take more control of your learning process minimizes the pressure to conform.

We shouldn’t want things to go back to normal. We should want them to be better than they were before.

When you don’t have to waste time worrying about insignificant social pressures and other people’s judgments about what they think you should do, you can more easily explore your interests and dedicate time to them. I developed a love of reading and watching films. I am now reading more in a month than I had read throughout all three years of middle school, slowly going through the films on the American Film Institute top 100 list, and exploring classes offered on Outschool.com. Previously, I didn’t have the emotional energy to spend on these things because I wasted so much time worrying about what I could do to make going to school easier, and what I could do to fit in better.

I find it distressing that the news focuses on reporting why our country needs to get kids in school immediately without considering why in-person learning isn’t the best model for every child. People keep asking if things will go back to normal when the pandemic ends. We shouldn’t want things to go back to normal. We should want them to be better than they were before.

Many students have shown a great deal of flexibility and adaptability in enduring how their education has been provided over the past year. I hope similar flexibility can be extended as to how and where we learn going forward. During the pandemic, we had to redefine our sense of space. Many have been inside for nearly a year. Just as we had to shrink our lives by living inside, we also need to expand how we define public education. New York State should offer an accredited online program with dedicated teachers that are New York State certified. Other states could follow suit. My school district, Pittsford, provided a model for achieving this objective of setting up and implementing a successful online learning environment. I wish it could continue for the remainder of my high school experience.

Are you a student with a perspective to share about your experiences with online learning in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic? Email OneZero editor-in-chief Damon Beres at damon [at] medium [dot] com. Please include the words “Student Pitch” in the subject line.

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