Studies have demonstrated that public health concerns, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, may cause psychological problems for students; its presentation includes a spectrum of anger, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and boredom [13,14,15]. This study aimed to investigate the positive and negative emotions of students during the COVID-19 pandemic and evaluate the elements which influence their emotions regarding school and education.
Our survey demonstrated a higher score regarding the students' positive emotions towards school compared to negative emotions (31/40 compared to 25/55, respectively). These findings reveal that students generally have enthusiasm for re-opening of school. This may be due to the time period when schools were forced to shut down, i.e. (February and March when students study for their exams and teachers are enthusiastic about education. This may subsequently indicate the student’s enthusiasm, interest, and eagerness to learn .
The present study showed a reverse relationship between aging and positive emotion along with a direct relationship with negative emotions. These findings are in accordance with the results of a study done by Archambault et al. that showed a decrease in both rule compliance and enthusiasm in school and determination to study during adolescence and high school periods .
Sex was not a significant element in the present study; however, in the literature, there was evidence in favor of sex differences in attitude towards school. Studies have reported that female students demonstrated a higher positive attitude toward school and were more eager to acquire education, contrary to male students who were less interested in school and had more negative emotions toward it [18,19,20].
Although our study found no meaningful relationship between positive and negative emotions and the types of schools, two studies were conducted in the Philippines to compare the motivation and attitude gap between public and private schools. They showed that positive attitude and motivation of private schools toward learning are higher than students studying in public school, which can be justified by the fact that those who study in private schools have better supports from parents and teachers which results in expediting conditions [21, 22].
Based on the results, there was a significant relationship between the location of the school (urban or rural) and emotions. Positive attitude towards schools is higher in rural areas than urban schools which is compatible with the results of a study by Swanson et al. that showed rural students had a higher tendency for graduation in comparison with urban students. The etiology of this difference can be found in, educational, socio-economic, and historical conditions . Wilcox et al. described that advantages offered by small, tightly-knit communities' impact the educational system. In rural areas, while being aware of the social and economic variations affecting their communities, teachers and commissioners are working to support families to comprehend shifting educational requirements and opportunities for their children. Factors related to the improvement of education in rural areas include the potentials of academic goals, expectations, learning opportunities, strategies applied by educators to maintain and develop family relationships and involve community members, nature of individual and collective educator efficacy, and instruments for adjusting education and engaging necessary interventions for students who are at risk of dropout .
Verešová et al. proved that the GPA had a strong correlation with the attitude of students towards school and learning, which is parallel with our findings. Students with higher GPAs had higher positive emotions compared to negative ones toward school. This can contribute to the encouragement system provided by facilities and families that provide support and opportunities to achieve better GPAs, which in part causes a virtuous circle .
Our study was conducted during a specific condition and time period. The situation that was imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic made educational systems to practice distance teaching methods through online courses although the impact of this element was not evaluated in this study. A study carried out by Girija et al. on this method of teaching showed that students, especially introverts, are interested in this E-learning technique. It seems that these students prefer a warm and safe place like home for learning rather than school classes . Petretto et al. suggested that providing electronic devices may not be easy for every parent during the COVID-19 pandemic, thus leading to further loss of education. Moreover, lack of internet access in some parts of the country and the need for the presence of parents for helping the younger children in usage of electronic devices may worsen this situation . Also, in developing countries, these facilities may not be available and students’ education can be disturbed. Thus, it was found that further developments in E-learning and its association with students’ emotions are needed, especially in developing countries.
Although our study demonstrated a high level of positive emotions towards school, children may inadvertently miss school after having been away for some time, but these positive attitudes or enthusiasm may increase the opportunity to socialize with friends than the opportunity to learn. Another consequence of this pandemic and situation is impact on physical health of students through weight gain, especially those who live in urban areas since screen time and sedentary activities tends to rise while practicing social distancing. This survey was conducted during the early phases of the pandemic in Iran in which the educational system was not yet converted from the traditional style to online home-based education. Moreover, home-based learning during the pandemic shows how inequality affects children outside school, where some face poverty, jobless parents, and domestic violence. In some developed countries, schools also rallied together to remain open so that children who depended on the subsidized school meal program could continue to go to school and not go hungry at home, while others who lacked a conducive environment for learning at home could also go back to their schools to study.
Limitations and strengths
Although the AEQ questionnaire is a valuable tool for evaluating the students' attitude (validity 0.77–0.93), our questionnaire was a modified and shortened version which was also translated into Persian for better understanding of our participants (Cronbach's alpha: positive attitude: 0.87, negative attitude: 0.85). It is worth mentioning that the substantial number of participants during the initial days of this public health crisis is amongst the strengths of our study although female students were over-represented. The generalizability of our findings may be limited due to a sample including mainly female students. It should also be stated that the large sample size in our survey contributes to its statistical significance; yet, it may not be the situation in practice. Future studies are suggested to be conducted to reproduce this research utilizing various overall public samples to empower the findings, and test the presence of questionnaire bias in sex invariant assembly of the modified AEQ. Also, future investigations ought to research the concurrent validity of the modified AEQ through its connection with the full-version AEQ, to test whether it could be utilized as a good assessment tool. Finally, research on the invariance of the modified AEQ questionnaire among various nations would be intriguing. In addition to the limited sample representativeness, another limitation of our study can be the web-based approach that was used for this survey. Because COVID-19 can be spread through close contacts or droplets, this approach was selected to reduce the chances of transmission; however, some bias, such as lack of internet access, remains.