At the British School Al Kubairat (BSAK) in Abu Dhabi, the last day of school for year-13 students is known as leaver’s day. This occasion is a final goodbye before pupils transition to the “grown-up” world of university, gap years or employment. My leaver’s day was memorable, filled with fond farewells, future plans and pranking the teachers. The day ended with the traditional goodbye walk down the BSAK staircase. We, leavers wore specially designed hoodies with the number 19 on the back. We had no idea that 2019 would not be a great year to start college.
Fast forward three years, I made it through my degree and now I am part of the Covid class of 2022. We are that group of students graduating from university this summer who have had most of our time in university affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our experience has been like no other before and possibly will be like none in the future.
At the height of the pandemic, when the virus spread rapidly and nations enforced lockdowns, education across levels underwent significant changes. In-person learning and exams were cancelled. For many students, online/remote learning became the new norm.
Such changes were radical, considering that most courses are designed with in-person teaching in mind. What affect did this have on quality?
Similarly, most programmes of study are designed with the assumption that students will be assessed in a specific way. But this was not always possible, due to the pandemic. Many, including myself, have gone a full three-year undergraduate degree without taking a single in-person exam. I even know students from my year who didn’t attend a single face-to-face class either.
Even when normality seemed to return, with the distribution of vaccines, many precautionary reforms remained. By then, some students were habituated to being online for everything. The exact method of education varied from course to course, from institution to institution; however, what is certain is that the experience of the class of 2022 is unique.
The various necessary public health measures affected our college experience, and most research suggests, negatively so. For example, a survey study published in the Journal of Public Economics in 2020 explored the affects of the pandemic on 1500 college students in the US. Overall, the study reported that 13 per cent had delayed graduation, 40 per cent had lost a job, internship, or job offer, and 29 per cent, consequently, expected to earn less at age 35.
Another study published in 2021 in Bio med central (BMC) Psychology explored the mental health outcome of the pandemic on US college students. The results suggest increased student anxiety, loneliness and depression. The study’s authors concluded that the pandemic had “clear negative mental health impacts”.
It is hard to know the lasting legacy for the class of 2022. Will we have poorer in-person face-to-face people skills than our predecessors? Did we cover as much content, learn and retain as much as earlier batches of students? Will future employers hold our graduation year against us? Will being a graduate of 2022 become stigmatised? I hope not.
On the plus side, perhaps we, the class of 2022, have better online communication skills than earlier batches. Finally, being among this unique group of graduates, we can claim to have proven our adaptibility and resilience.
Looking at historical examples of when education was radically disrupted in the past, the eventual outcomes are promising. For instance, In West Germany, from 1966-67, a short-lived government policy meant that the length of the school year was cut by about a third. A study of the unfortunate policy was undertaken at the London School of Economics. Results suggest that the students educated during this period experienced increased rates of grade repetition (failure). Consequently, this led to fewer students progressing to higher-level schools within the German education system. However, when the West German class of '66-67 were assessed in later life, there were no adverse impacts on employment rates or earnings. In short, a few years down the line, things had autocorrected.
This could well be the case with students affected by the fall-out of Covid-19. If there are gaps, we will quickly close them. We are resilient and flexible and learning is lifelong. The class of 2022 deserve two degree certificates, one for passing their programme of study and a second for making the journey during a global pandemic.