According to mental health charity, Mind, nearly three-quarters (73%) of students said their mental health declined during the lockdown. As we begin to emerge from the seismic effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, thoughts turn to the longer-term impact of over a year of isolation, upheaval, and disrupted learning.
Factors affecting student mental health
There are several ways in which the pandemic has affected students starting or continuing their further education. Students have been subjected to:
- Disrupted social cohesion
- Extreme loneliness
- Having to adapt to digitally-led learning
- Uncertainty relating to higher education and travel opportunities
- Uncertain environment and regulations
In summer 2020, after coronavirus cancelled exams, pupils' grades were determined by a statistical model that took into account their teachers' assessments and, crucially, the school's historical performance. It was an algorithm that saw 40% of pupils face grade reductions, most severely in schools that had seen historically lower marks, prompting fears that disadvantaged pupils were losing out. Following hundreds of street protests, Ofqual confirmed that there no longer would be a standardisation process for AS and A levels or GCSEs and instead all students would be awarded the centre assessment grade submitted by their school or college, unless it was lower than their calculated grade in which case the calculated grade will stand.
All of these factors have had a dramatic impact on student mental health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has recently reported there were 80,226 more under-18s referred to NHS mental health services in England between April and December 2020 than the same period in 2019.
Looking to the future
As lockdown is beginning to ease and schools and colleges are recently reopening, colleges are now able to support student confidence. Below are our tips on how colleges can support going forward.
Communicate with students how they want to be communicated with
Research shows that 41% of Gen Z would prefer to communicate with you on social media; after all, we are talking about an entirely digital generation. App technology can move your processes to a place where you can streamline back-end processes and give students a more connected experience at the press of a button. The annual Student Survey conducted by Tribal with users of the Tribal Engage app shows a huge 97% of students use their app at least once a week, while 53% use it every day. Tribal Engage is much more than just a chat app; it is a complete mobile solution for the campus community. Engage integrates with existing systems and offers quick linking opportunities to your wider campus systems, from keeping students on track with post links, hints, tips, and reminders and receiving signposts to well-being services.
Connect with employers
Vocational education and training can play a crucial role in recovering from the COVID-19 crisis by equipping young students and adult learners with the skills that the labour market needs. VET can contribute to tackling youth unemployment, re-skilling workers for growing or emerging sectors and occupations, and ensuring that employers do not encounter skill shortages.
Consider a mentoring scheme
Offer the opportunity for older students or alumni to become mentors. This can help to make current students or new intake feel seen and address any of their concerns. By supporting students to improve their learning and leadership skills, motivates them towards their future career development.
Give frequent feedback
Frequent feedback, both formally and informally, gives your students affirmation in what they're doing well and provides direction for where they can improve. Feedback ultimately promotes personal and professional growth.
Although the challenges of the pandemic will be played out in the education landscape for many years to come, with the right approach and communication, colleges can provide the support needed for learners to get back on track.