The latest YouGov poll has revealed that 55% of 18-24 year olds have found the lockdown to be difficult, reflecting what has been an extremely difficult year for our generation. This is not to say that the population as a whole has not suffered. But young people have faced difficulties on two fronts. The first being almost a years absence from school; which leads to increased loneliness, boredom and inevitably depression (the number of young people reporting depression has doubled since the start of the pandemic). The second being the demonisation of our generation for supposedly having caused the second wave we saw this winter. This is simply for trying to make the best out of a situation that suffocates us of the freedoms that every generation before us has enjoyed.
A government study in 2016 looking into the impact of absence from school demonstrates just how important it is for children to maintain good attendance. The study reveals that even one missed day significantly reduces a secondary school student’s chances of achieving top grades in their GCSE’s. Now imagine the long-term impact of 168 million children missing out two thirds of an academic year’s worth of proper education worldwide. Unsurprisingly, it is the children from poorer nations that have suffered the most; with Panama, Bangladesh and Bolivia having missed the highest number of days on average per child. This is due to a variety of factors, primarily that poorer families do not have the same access to remote learning. Rather than this lockdown being the much proclaimed ‘great leveller’, it has only served to increase the gap between the global rich and the poor. Even in our own country, the impact of keeping children out of school will be horrific. A Times article yesterday estimates that there will be over 200,000 students moving from primary to secondary school this autumn unable to read.
The destructive impact of lockdown on young people is not limited to school children. Undergraduate students across the UK have also suffered. While the already extortionate tuition fees somehow remain the same, all teaching has been moved online. The majority of this content is recorded, which removes the student’s ability to engage in discussion and be exposed to new ideas. It often feels as though we are paying £9250 per year for access to some YouTube videos.
This government’s cavalier attitude toward undergraduates in the past year has already set many on the path towards lower academic achievement, worse social skills, and increased rates of loneliness and depression. Even aside from the academic impact, university students’ pastoral needs have been cruelly swept aside by the enforced social distancing measures on campus. As a university student myself, I have witnessed first-hand the impact that blanket restrictive rules have had. It is difficult enough starting off at university. Having fines threatened and imposed on you for gathering with a few mates outside a randomly allocated corridor ‘bubble’ makes the situation even worse. One horrifying example comes from a friend studying at Newcastle University. She was sitting at her desk in her second-year housing, when three sizeable policemen barged in unannounced, declaring that she must pay a fine of £200. The reason? Her flatmate had one friend around for tea downstairs. The notion of proportional response from police is so far gone now that stories like this don’t even raise an eyebrow. The irony here is so blatant; the police were the ones making a loosely defined ‘unnecessary journey’ during a pandemic, not the lonely friend who had been invited around for a cup of tea.
Ultimately, all of these changes that young people have had to adapt to have been in the name of sacrifice. With such a low hospitalisation rate among the youth, this sacrifice has been for the health of the older generations. Perhaps this ordeal would go smoother if it felt that our generation’s losses were being acknowledged. But with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown lacking even a semblance of reason, and with talks of vaccine passports gaining traction, it seems young people will once again be forced to pull the short straw.