It was March when COVID-19 had finally hit Canada. Cases of the novel coronavirus had just begun popping up across the country. Few were treating the virus seriously as the minimal number of cases seemed so trivial in a country so big. Wuhan is also continents away. The virus had seemed like a distant problem that did not concern Canadians. Yet, the virus had its ways. It seemed to have latched onto the country in very little time, sending Canadians into a panicked state. Everyone had scrambled to make emergency plans for safety reasons, my university included. “Students no longer have to remain on campus as in-person classes and exams have been cancelled for the rest of the semester and the first half of summer school. Further arrangements are to be made, but the university anticipates in-person classes to resume for the second half of summer school,” I remember the email saying. Little did they know, the virus, and therefore, online school, seems to be the new normal for everyone in the long run.
I personally enjoy online school way better than in-person classes as I get to learn at my own pace in a comfortable environment; but apart from personal gains, online school can also benefit our environment if sustained in the long run. First and foremost, online school enables students to learn wherever and whenever, meaning less will be commuting to school and back every single day. As of 2016, 43.1% of persons attending full-time courses in educational institutions travel to their place of study by road transport in Hong Kong, which accounts for up to 53% of major emission sources like Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). Road transport is just one of many transportation methods, so one can only imagine the drastic amounts of pollution emitted by all kinds of transportation on a daily. Not to mention, Hong Kong is also infamous for its frequent traffic congestions. Idle vehicles can actually produce up to double the amount of exhaust emissions than a vehicle in motion, according to a study done by the British government. These exhaust emissions contribute to smog and climate change, which may be able to explain the increasing temperatures, number of extreme weather events, rainfall, and sea levels these few decades. As such, taking away the need to transport back and forth every day is already a huge gain that the environment can benefit from online school.
Other than minimising needs for commute, it also minimises the consumption of energy and natural resources. While an online-school student only requires their electronic device and maybe a light source to study for a limited period of time, a school requires much more energy to maintain and operate the building constantly. Taking my high school as an example, even when most students and teachers are gone by evening, the school remains open with all lights and air circulation systems on until late at night for the small number of people who might remain for projects and sport practices; and early on in the morning, the same happens to provide for more sport practices. Other than that, things like security systems also have to run 24/7 to ensure safety. On top of energy consumption, building a school also requires many raw materials and machineries. However, with learning virtually, no actual school is needed. Not only will this leave more already-scarce open areas for housing in such a small place like Hong Kong, but also eliminate the excessive and unnecessary use of natural resources.
Aside from statistically proven benefits of online school, my experiences with learning virtually these past few months have also unknowingly helped with my contribution to making the environment a better place. With less needs to go out and interact with others, I have decided that I do not need to look as put-together as I did before. Pyjama pants with a presentable t-shirt had been my go-to outfit for days when I needed to attend zoom classes; other days, I just opted to stay in my comfy pyjama set (which, in my opinion, looks even better than the “presentable” outfit; cause, at least, the tops and bottoms match!!) I also did not mind repeating outfits every few days. Not only did it contribute to less consumption of water and electricity for laundry, but also reduced my urges to shop for clothing, which may not be my most sustainable hobby (or guilty pleasure). Besides actual physical contributions, I have also somewhat made a mental contribution in that online school has given me an opportunity to be in my room for longer periods of time, and indulging in the beautiful scenery of greeneries from my window while studying has allowed me to appreciate the nature and our environment more. Subsequently, it has led to more environmentally friendly decisions.
At the end of the day, no one knows what to expect of the future with the coronavirus still spinning out of control. What’s for sure is that everyone should put an effort in limiting the number of social interactions and gatherings to lessen the chances of spreading the highly infectious virus. This means that online school might still be sticking around in the foreseeable future, meaning it could go on long enough for the world to see the pronounced difference it can make on the environment, and finally, get the recognition it deserves.