Photo taken from REUTERS/Sivaram V
Around the world, learning institutions have been closed indefinitely; some have moved their learning to digital platforms while others, out of lack of alternatives, have been forced to pause learning until the pandemic is contained. What does this mean for the young person from an underprivileged family who cannot afford electricity, let alone access to internet for digital learning? Learners risk contending with cancelled exams, delayed graduations or even in worst case scenarios, being forced to repeat a year of learning (also known as ‘grade retention’).
youth survey conducted by Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute reveals that the greatest concern for youth in East Africa is unemployment. Unfortunately, as cases of COVID-19 infections increase, the number of young people losing their jobs increase. Financial pressure amidst health concerns mean less financial and social security for youth, who are
twice more likely to be unemployed than adults. This breeds a hidden toll on young adults who have an obligation of feeding and financially supporting their families and elderly parents.
The mental and emotional pressure of the novel coronavirus has already proven to be significantly distressing for the world’s younger demographic – be it due to a loss of jobs, loss of loved-ones, lack of food, education disruption or the general uncertainties of the near future. Millennials (born between 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born between 1997-2012) are now grappling with
questions of meaning, morality and mortality like never before amidst alarming news streaming in each day.
Challenges posed by COVID-19 could potentially serve as an opportunity for academia and experts in the field of education to rethink the sector, and promote a level playing field for all children in the future. Industry players could find a sustainable way of cushioning employees from job losses and salary cuts to create a sustainable workforce in the midst of today’s shocks and stresses.
Decisions made by a variety of actors must consider every social, mental and emotional impact this historical pandemic will have on young people today, and for the rest of their lives.
The government should seriously consider creating opportunities for young people to engage in the fight against the pandemic, whether in the form of online and remote jobs or involvement in mental and physical health awareness campaigns in this era of COVID-19.
COVID-19 will be a foundational experience of young people’s lives as they watch how the government, private sector, cities, and even their own families respond. It’s critical that we, a global community, address the devastating repercussions of the current situation.
Mercy Karumba is the Programmes Officer for the East Africa Institute, Aga Khan University.