By Angelina Alyabyeva – Winner
The Covid-19 pandemic has entered into our lives in the most unpredictable way. As of February 2021, almost a year after the first cases of the virus were recorded in the Republic of Cyprus (‘Cyprus’), there have been more than 34,000 cases and more than 230 deaths, according to official statistics (Cyprus (covid19healthsystem.org). Despite the fact that Cyprus has not been as heavily affected by COVID -19 cases and deaths as other European countries, such as France and Italy, it has, nonetheless, experienced some major consequences, mainly in the economic and educational sectors. These consequences have affected people from all age groups but importantly, the youth are the ones that will mostly bear the negative results since they are affected both in terms of educational as well as employment prospects. According to Lord Sumption
“…poor, the inadequately housed, the precariously employed and the socially isolated have suffered most from the [United Kingdom] government’s measures [in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic]and above all, the young, who are little affected by the disease itself, have been made to bear almost all the burden, in the form of blighted educational opportunities and employment prospects whose effects will last for years”
In light of the above statement, this essay will analyze how the young people in Cyprus have been particularly affected by the pandemic in the spheres of education and employment. Additionally, possible solutions of the higher education system of Cyprus will be addressed.
Due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, many universities have moved online and some students do not find online lectures as beneficial as face-to-face teaching and learning. Lecture contributions in class have been affected, since the online class is not as “alive” as the face-to-face mode of delivery and the classroom became the screen of an electronic device. Additionally, online exams, even though they are open-book, are marked more strictly and as a result, students can have worse exam performance. These novel challenges in the education require more efforts and preparation from the students.
Schools and universities, which were forced by the government measures to switch to remote operation, were generally not ready for this “new normality”. Not all teachers were able to quickly adjust the learning process “remotely”, to build lessons and lectures so as to keep the attention of students and move to a more flexible teaching process. Moreover, not all teachers were able to quickly adapt to new learning technologies on online platforms.
In addition, many students have altered their undergraduate or postgraduate plans of studying abroad and decided to proceed to studying in the universities of the island. Many top universities have not created online degrees, so international students could not benefit from an online degree or they failed to improve affordability in terms of fees. On most occasions, the online degree frequently costs more than their in – person counterparts and may not produce a positive result in return, because of the difficulties with online education mentioned above. Additionally, some students decided to move their studies back to Cyprus, because of the closure of borders between countries and the announcements of lockdowns.
Students face technical issues, which can compromise their educational experience, for example, an absence of electronic devices. Cyprus banks and philanthropists though provide children in need with electronic devices (6 thousand electronic tablets have already been received, according to the official website of Bank of Cyprus actively supporting Education Ministry’s online learning drive – Bank of Cyprus Group), and telecommunications operators grant free Internet access to provide distance learning. The Ministry of Education and Science has collected data on all schools in Cyprus to identify the needs of students. The mentioned steps can significantly contribute to supporting and assisting education which will greatly improve students’ access to distance learning. However, university students in financial need may not have a device through which they can participate in classes and this fact should be taken into consideration by the government in order to achieve equality among all.
In regards to work prospects, the pandemic and the lockdown measures have affected young people differently depending on the area of practice. High general unemployment rates have always disproportionately affected the youth; however, this time, the COVID -19 pandemic has caused economic destruction on an unprecedented level, according to the European Commission’s statistics (Unemployment statistics – Statistics Explained (europa.eu)). This does not allow the young generation to find a job suitable for their degree, and in most cases, they end up working in an unrelated field even receiving nominal amounts of money, or even only having a part-time job, thus limiting their earnings even more.
Additionally, because of their age and inexperience, young people are more susceptible to be let go from their existing jobs. What is usually the case is that businesses are more prone to let go of inexperienced (usually young) staff and retain the more experienced staff which is more productive to the business. This creates a detrimental effect to young persons, and leads to further unemployment. Therefore, young people are not able to gain the necessary practical experience at an early stage in their careers which would enhance their employability in an already competitive work environment.
First of all, it is necessary to ensure that all students in Cyprus have equal access to education by providing electronic devices which will help them attend school from home. Furthermore, specific training should be conducted to teachers in order to positively adapt to online teaching and create interactive classes/lectures which will keep the students engaged and interested in classes.
In addition, more investments should be put in the educational system to the point that a majority of students will choose to stay and pursue their education in Cyprus instead of going abroad. This can be done by elevating the level of education quality provided by universities in Cyprus to high international standards. This will incentivize more young people to choose Cyprus for higher education knowing that the quality of teaching will be as high as anywhere else.
Last but not least, more internship opportunities should be provided for the youth in order for them to develop necessary skills and be qualified for a decent job in the future.
To conclude, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is like no other, has affected the lives of the young generation. Its long-term consequences remain to be seen; therefore, the prospects for economic recovery also remain uncertain. However, it has already become apparent that the pandemic has dealt a serious blow not only to the economy of Cyprus, but also, as discussed in this essay, to the educational and employment sectors, especially as regards ‘the young’. If the possible solutions could be implemented, the youth will be in a more favorable position with a brighter and flourishing future, both in terms of educational opportunities and employment prospects.
The Writing Competition was open to all undergraduate and postgraduate law students and alumni at UCLan Cyprus. The prizes were generously sponsored by L. Papaphilippou & CO LLC and rewarded the essays which best addressed the question set in an original, fluent, persuasive, imaginative and otherwise well written manner.