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Friday 3 April 2020

Heard It at a ThinkIn

‘There’s stigma about young people’

At one of our ThinkIns this week, we heard from Gen Z about how they’re struggling – and coping – through the pandemic

By Imogen Harper

On Wednesday, Gen Z – which is to say, people born between the mid 1990s and the early 2010 – took over our digital ThinkIn to share their thoughts, experiences and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Over 200 people joined for the hour. Here are some of the key takeaways.


Our virtual world makes us feel disconnected…

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing schools, colleges and universities to practise remote teaching, bringing a new kind of challenge as Year 12 student Robson Augusta noted:

“We’ve got one webinar per subject per week, so we’ve gone from having four hours of contact time with teachers to an hour and a half. And the independent learning’s gone up… we’re hitting the hardest subjects before going into Year 13 and that’s led to how complex the work’s got. It’s caused a lot of stress for some students and some people have just found it impossible to learn, they’re just getting stressed out because they don’t understand the work.”

The story is no different for university students, as Hilai Qahari explained:

“We have our exams online now, it’s a method I’ve never done before… This poses a lot of problems, I’m not great at typing and there are lots of disturbances as I come from a very large family.

One thing that really upset me is that I’m not going to have a graduation, so a proper ceremony, so all these years of education, all this year of hard work, and in the end no graduation. Apparently we might have a virtual graduation and there are so many memes online saying ‘Oh, I’m going to get my degree while on my bed, or while I’m having breakfast’.”

For students studying the arts, online learning poses a new kind of challenge, as Year 10 student Digby said:

“A lot of the subjects we’ve got, such as art or drama, are becoming quite difficult. We were trying to complete our final pieces for the first module of our coursework but the issue is you need access to a wide range of materials, you need canvas, you need paints, you need a lot of newspaper and a lot of people don’t have access to that, especially [those from] disadvantaged economic backgrounds.”


… and this might impact our mental health

A group of students from Oakland, USA park their cars in a circle to socially distance while spending time together

Lack of social contact, the disruption to normal routine and uncertainty about the future as a result of the coronavirus lockdown can all have a negative impact on mental health. Hermoine Fullerton, a final year student at Bristol University, raised her concerns:

“We already have a really overburdened administrative team here, whether it be with well-being or with faculties, specifically in the humanities. So the idea that this is really affecting people’s mental health but then there’s just not the personal one-to-one chats that people can have or the safe space of having a well-being meeting, but also just the fact that it’s already overburdened now and this is definitely going to be a catalyst to cause a lot more problems in the future.”

Second-year student Katherine Kallehauge agreed:

“There’s so much uncertainty at the moment, no clarity in regards to our exams, having all our essays postponed, that just keeps on changing and that happens on top of the strike by UCU. It’s been like that for months now.”

Tortoise student ambassador Tom Collyer also commented on the impact of the strikes:

“Lots of the lecturers went on strike just at the beginning of Semester Two for us, which has made the timing of the coronavirus shutdown a really bad time as lots of students at university at the moment have basically had virtually no tuition for the whole of Semester Two. So I think it’s extremely important that university students are supported through that.”


Gen Z know they are not invincible…

The director-general of the World Health Organisation recently warned young people that they are “not invincible” to the threat posed by coronavirus, after criticism that health warnings were not being taken seriously enough. Jack Johnston believes it’s just a narrative people like to use:

“I think there’s kind of a stigma about young people in particular being branded as reckless and flouting the rules when really, from what I’ve seen, the majority of people… they’ve been following the government’s guidelines absolutely perfectly. It feels like the blame, it’s totally unfounded, but the blame is kind of on younger people from what I’ve seen on social media.”


…but this could be a moment of enlightenment for our education system

Education secretary Gavin Williamson recently stated that “cancelling exams is something no education system would ever want to do”, but fourth-year student Jelena Sofronijevic thinks this might just bring the perfect opportunity to reform the whole system for the better:

“I’ve been reflecting quite a lot on my experience of education, I went to a grammar school and I stayed there for sixth form, so I’ve come from quite a high pressure academic background… I think this moment of panic… actually exposes a fundamental problem in our educational system that we’re so focused on exams and target setting and I don’t think that’s healthy. I think this moment of panic should really force us to be more introspective.”

Photographs Getty Images


Join us

ThinkIns are the engine of our journalism. We’d love for you to take part. Do join us for a Digital ThinkIn next week:

Monday: What does God make of the coronavirus? 6.30pm

Tuesday: Weekly open news meeting 1pm 

Tuesday: C-19 Tech: just how powerful is Zoom now? 6.30pm

Thursday: Corona-comedy: why do we laugh in a crisis? 6.30pm

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