Nearly half of Emirati students say mental health affected by Covid-19 pandemic, poll finds

In a survey of almost 3,000 people, two thirds also wanted to continue with some form of remote learning after the coronavirus is gone

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Two out of three Emirati students want remote learning to continue in some form after Covid-19, while almost half (44 per cent) said their mental health had been negatively affected by the pandemic, a survey found.

Although the vast majority are happy with their university experience, the study showed that 45 per cent believed the pandemic had a negative effect on their education.

The findings lay bare the huge challenges faced by Emirati students who – like their international peers – had to grapple with university and a once in a century event.

The report, Looking to the Future: Understanding Emirati Youth's Vision for the Next 50 Years, was conducted for the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations.

Researchers interviewed Emirati students at home and abroad, and ran focus groups. The study is said to be one of most authoritative on young Emiratis and assesses their opinions on everything from technology to heritage.

Here are the main findings that relate to the pandemic.

The effect of Covid-19 on education

Most Emirati students are happy with their educational experience but the study found nearly half (45 per cent) believe the pandemic had a negative effect, while one in three (32 per cent) felt it had been positive.

Despite this, the pandemic brought positive perspectives on remote learning. Two out of three want remote learning to continue in some form after Covid-19, while just 26 per cent wanted coursework to return to in-person learning.

Maryam Hassani, 25, an Emirati working with the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority, believes the pandemic offered a wake-up call.

“A completely virtual environment takes away from the essence of being in university or school. Engaging with people, interacting in the halls, conversing with your peers and teachers in-person – these are all valuable experiences you just don’t get in a virtual environment,” Ms Hassani said.

“On the other hand though, a completely in-person education does somewhat limit the extent of knowledge exposure. Students now have unprecedented access to the best professors or educators from across the world.”

The majority – 87 per cent – said they are satisfied with the overall quality of education they are receiving, even at a time when most of the learning is taking place remotely, away from professors and fellow classmates.

How the coronavirus affected mental health

Mental well-being has been one of the most pressing issues of the pandemic and the consequences will only be revealed in the years to come. The survey, perhaps unsurprisingly, reveals Covid-19 is causing stress and mental health issues for some young Emiratis.

While 75 per cent of students describe their mental health and well-being as excellent or good, one in four say their mental health is not good or even poor.

Nearly half (44 per cent) of Emirati university students said their mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic.

“Women and students are at the top of the pyramid for anxiety,” said Khawla Hammad, founder of Takalam, an online counselling platform.

“Being a student already comes with many challenges and now, on top of these, they have to go through the isolation of studying without their classmates. Women are under so much pressure because of home schooling and the different roles they are expected to play as mothers, sisters, daughters and employees.”

The pandemic hits certain students more than others. Students in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (48 per cent); medical students (47 per cent); women (47 per cent); UAE citizens studying abroad (47 per cent); and undergraduates (45 per cent) are more likely to report a negative effect on their mental health than others.

Of those who say their mental health is not good or poor, 78 per cent say educational pressures are a source of stress. This is more than any factor – including Covid-19 (53 per cent) or social isolation and loneliness (44 per cent). The sources of stress go beyond pandemic, as 32 per cent refer to body image issues, 12 per cent to social media and 11 per cent to bullying.

The study was conducted between October and November last year and canvassed 2,974 young Emiratis – 2,629 students studying in the UAE and 345 abroad. Alongside the study, four focus groups were conducted in Arabic with Emirati university students.

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