Research of SSE Riga and BICEPS: What is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students' lives in general and their future plans after graduation?
Currently, 12th grade students in Latvia take exams to receive certificates of secondary education. What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives of students, who have studied remotely for almost half of the time in secondary school?
The data of research by the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga) and the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS) reveals that the Covid-19 pandemic, according to students themselves, has hardly affected the plans of young people to continue their studies, but fewer students plan to go abroad next year and are less inclined to start a business.
The research found that after graduating from secondary school, 82% of young people plan to continue their studies, but a very small number (2%) plan to start working, while the rest of the young people had not yet decided what to do.
Most of the students plan to continue their studies in Latvia, however, a quarter plan to go abroad to study. No significant differences have been observed between Latvian and minority school graduates regarding the desire to study abroad. Young people, who want to study abroad, mostly plan to continue their studies in the Netherlands. Popular destinations include the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. About a third of young people planning to study abroad had not yet decided exactly which country they plan to continue their studies in.
When asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their lives, students very often mentioned that they felt as if life was passing them by and opportunities, that would never happen again, were being lost.
Most students find online learning more difficult than face-to-face learning. BICEPS researcher Marija Krūmiņa admits that: “The answers show that young people are worried about learning outcomes and exams as they see that the quality of studies and their knowledge seem to suffer. Several students have mentioned that they get high grades, but there is no real knowledge behind the grades. Lack of motivation, uncertainty about the future and difficulties in planning ahead are often mentioned. A very frequently mentioned problem is the lack of communication with friends, which creates additional stress and frustration.”
The emotional state of students is very different. Some young people feel depressed and anxious about their own and others' mental health, express anger about the situation, feel a lack of control over life and ongoing events.
“At the same time, a relatively large number of respondents also see the positive impact of the pandemic, the opportunity to slow down the daily race and understand their true wishes and values, learn to constantly plan time, gain new experience. Personality growth was also mentioned in several responses. They accept the situation, learn to live with it, and they are convinced that everything will be fine,” explains researcher M. Krūmiņa.
High levels of stress can have a very negative effect on overall academic performance. The perceived stress scale was used to measure the level of stress among 11th and 12th grade students. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) is a classic and widely used stress assessment tool to understand how different situations affect people's feelings and perceived stress.
Moderate level of daily controlled stress can even be healthy. Most of the surveyed young people (72%) had a moderate level of stress, 9% had a low level of stress, but almost a fifth of the surveyed young people were exposed to high stress. 12th grade students have a higher level of stress than 11th grade students, which can be explained by final exams and expected changes in their lives. Interestingly, high levels of stress are observed less frequently among graduates of minority schools than among young people in Latvian schools. This may possibly be explained by a different mentality, but this result requires further research.
Regarding gender differences in the perception of stress, the results confirm those of several other previous studies in the field of psychology that schoolgirls are more exposed to high levels of stress compared to their male peers. One of the explanations could be different stress management strategies for different genders. Students worry about lost opportunities, uncertainty about the future, lack of knowledge, motivation and communication. However, there are also some students, who see new opportunities and use this time for self-discovery and development.
To summarise, the Covid-19 pandemic has hardly affected young people's plans to continue their studies, but as a result of the pandemic, fewer students plan to study abroad immediately after graduating from secondary school.
“As a university that will meet young people in the autumn, who were exposed to the changes and uncertainties caused by the pandemic, it was especially important to find out how this has affected young people's mood and future plans. Several current students of SSE Riga were involved in the collection of research data. We see the fact that the pandemic has not stifled the desire of young people to study as very good news,” emphasises Anders Paalzow, Rector of SSE Riga.
About the research:
A total of 447 students from schools in Riga, Pieriga, as well as Latgale and Zemgale regions participated in the survey. The majority of respondents (70%) studied in the 12th grade, 30% were 11th grade students. The majority of respondents were from Riga and Pieriga district schools, 10% from Zemgale region and 18% from Latgale region schools. 64% of respondents were women and 24% attended minority schools.
The research was conducted by SSE Riga together with BICEPS within the project FLPP No. Lzp-2018/1-0486. The youth survey was conducted in the period from November 2020 to March 2021, meeting with 11th and 12th grade students online.