Students’ Unspoken Condition During a Pandemic.
Financial hardship, housing difficulties, but also learning challenges due to the immediate (and newly digitalization) online education set up by institutions: students have to face many challenges – sometimes without parental or institutional support.
While many ranges of the population and their suffering during the pandemic have been covered, students can sometimes be neglected due to false perceptions of their status perpetrated by previous generations.
Let’s take this as an opportunity to debunk some old fashioned ideas to bring some understanding of younger generations’ condition and to hopefully help older generations to create a supportive environment for their fellow younger humans.
#1 Students “only” study and assume less “adult” responsibilities (work, children, etc.).
Being a student is a long term investment. Therefore, they invest their time (and money, depending on the education fees) during years to further the probability of gaining a high return on their investment (career, job position, etc.). For this reason, students don’t only study: they carefully invest for long term results.
The democratization of higher education and wider access for all socio-economical ranges of the population have demystified the status of students, rendering this “activity” as an occupational option given to all after mandatory education. Indeed, with the constant increase in the number of students in universities, it appears that almost anyone can engage in upper education.
Not only can everyone access it, students can attend curriculums without properly assessing studies’ sectors since schooling fees are low (at least in Switzerland). The “free-spirited” approach that resulted from the democratization of education also participated in the creation of the false idea that studying is “less” of an adult decision with big consequences on finance, relationships, and life in general.
Instead, it is now considered fairly normal to attend university classes instead of a privilege or an important investment in life. In reality, students are very much embracing adulthood with all its responsibilities as they invest time and money without actually gaining financial benefits – like traditional workers. That’s their work.
In that sense, students should receive the necessary consideration we would normally give to traditional workers. They will be the next generation of workers and they should be able to gain the maximum from their studies to bring innovative solutions to the work field when it’s their turn to enter the workforce.
#2 Students have support from their families or governmental institutions – automatically.
This assumption is strongly untrue. A great part of students coming from good socio-economic families does have support from their families. However, families coming from underdeveloped countries may not be in such positions – regardless if they are currently established in a developed country, it’s not a guarantee that they are financially abundant.
Other factors may also enter into consideration, such as education, ethnicity, religion – all factors that have a direct impact on the support families are able or willing to provide for students. Indeed, some education styles (or religious) can advocate for less support to “children” once they don’t live at home, after 18 years old, or even because they are not allowed to complete traditional studies (or the field of their choice).
Regarding institutional support for students, multiple organizations are ready to help – at least in Switzerland. However, the administrative machinery at hand doesn’t take all students but a specific bracket of students, which means that they will need to fulfill a wide range of criteria (them and their family) to be able to have access to such support.
In addition, restrictions in place make administrative procedures complicated and can take months to be completed – even when all forms and papers have been correctly fulfilled and submitted. Contrary to popular belief, the important amount of paper to fill in will not only concern the student as an individual but also their parents which can render the procedure difficult.
If parents are uneducated, unwilling, or unaware of administrative procedures, students may not be able to fully fill in applications in time or at all. This aspect is often glazed over and it could be a hard awakening for young students to discover that they face more challenges to apply for financial help than expected or that they are simply not qualified to ask for one.
#3 Students can live with their parents indefinitely and if they can’t, they can simply look for a room somewhere.
This assumption is not entirely wrong but it concerns only a certain range of the population. Wealthy parents can, indeed, sustain a young adult at their place or they can pay for a room for them if needed. However, other students will need to get a job or financial help from an institution to afford to rent a room. Even then, depending on the city, students don’t have many housing opportunities.
In Switzerland, housing facilities dedicated to students and interns are available but largely insufficient to allow all students to save a spot. Rooms are also available for rent with other students, young professionals, or seniors. Those opportunities can be attractive and affordable, however, castings to get in can be draining and several rounds of interviews could end up unsuccessful. Therefore, regardless of the endless opportunities that some cities can offer in terms of subletting opportunities, it doesn’t guarantee everyone gets selected.
For other students, they may have to live with family (close or extended) or boyfriends/girlfriends. When in most cases, this is a good “win-win” situation or alternative, it can be done at the expense of people’s mental health in case of unhealthy dynamics happening in the household.
#4 Students have it easy in pandemic times since they just have to study from home.
Students are as much impacted as the elderly or else. First, learning at home implies having a safe and stable environment – which is not guaranteed, since parents/roommates/others can disturb students and their learning endeavors. Furthermore, a certain infrastructure is needed to study in an optimal manner – high-speed internet (needed for zoom connexions) and personal space/room.
In terms of motivation, students have a bigger propensity to learn outside their home either at the university or in other locations (coffee shops, etc.). During a pandemic, those options are not available anymore which could be impacting negatively students’ motivation and overall ability to learn. In addition, students help each other when studying together – which can be more challenging in quarantine times.
#5 Students are not as impacted during Covid-times, compared to other tranches of the population.
This is completely wrong. As mentioned before, the global pandemic impacted students heavily. They depend exclusively on universities’ structures, which means that the success of their studies is directly correlated with universities’ capabilities and ability to offer digitized services or to adapt in general to the restrictions due to the pandemic. During the Covid crisis, many students had to cancel studies abroad, got their classes canceled partially or altogether, but also their housing and financial funding opportunities (from institutions or a side-job) have been refuted.
On a psychological level, while all ranges of the population are impacted by the crisis, students are impacted at a moment in time when they are only at the early stage of their (conscious/intentional) personal growth and they are still learning their way through life. They are still developing coping mechanisms and skills: “As adults, we have a set of coping skills that some younger students don’t have,”x said Amy Bintliff, a developmental psychologist, and professor at the University of California, San Diego’s department of education studies.
This means students don’t have the necessary experience to cope efficiently in quarantine times – even more so since the pandemic is an unprecedented situation that we – as professionals or seniors – can’t even properly manage. The difference remains in the fact that while other ranges of the population most likely have a roof over their head and financial support through work, students have all those elements in shambles and under stronger uncertainty than before.
Not to mention the support system students may be lacking due to geographical relocation for studies – letting them without close family and friends at their disposal. A significant problem for foreign students who may not be familiar with their newfound environment. Circumstances that are normally compensated by the new relationships that are created through the network at universities.
How to help? Make a difference.
While it is well understood that everyone suffers from the pandemic, this article aims to bring awareness to struggles too often forgotten or dismissed by older generations who either didn’t particularly struggle in their life or who otherwise survived difficulties that corrupted their sense of empathy and connexion to others.
Younger generations can’t be glazed over simply because they are at a stage of their life where they are supposed to have “fun” or “make mistakes”. As conscious citizens, we have to provide the necessary help and support to ensure new generations of healthy and well-adjusted citizens will take over. Their mistakes or maladjustments are only the reflection of what has been taught to them and how society treated them – how we treated them. Let’s make sure we provide the right support.
To help, feel free to check out this initiative from the University of Geneva: https://www.unige.ch/solidaire/en/.