Labour: COVID-19 having a devastating effect on youth education

Over 70 per cent of young people who were either studying or combining study and work before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced school closures, and not all were able to transition into online and distance learning, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said.

According to a report on youth and COVID-19, the ILO said that COVID-19 has left one in eight young people (13 per cent) without any access to courses, teaching or training.

The situation is particularly acute among youth in lower-income countries and one that serves to underline the sharp digital divides that exist between regions, it added.

Despite the best efforts of schools and training institutions to provide continuity through online delivery, 65 per cent of young people reported having learnt less since the pandemic began, 51 per cent believe their education will be delayed, and nine per cent feared their education would suffer and might even fail.

"The pandemic is inflicting multiple shocks on young people. It is not only destroying their jobs and employment prospects, but also disrupting their education and training and having serious impacts on their mental well-being. We cannot let this happen," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

The ILO report is based on findings from the Global Survey on Youth and COVID-19 conducted between April and May 2020.

The survey is aimed at capturing the immediate effects of the pandemic on the lives of young people (aged 18-29) with regards to employment, education, mental well-being, rights and social activism, said the ILO.

Over 12,000 responses were received from 112 countries, with a large proportion coming from educated youth and those with Internet access.

The study found the impact of the pandemic on young people to be systematic, deep and disproportionate.

"It has been particularly hard on young women, younger youth and youth in lower-income countries. Young people are concerned about the future and their place within it," it said.

According to the study, young people aged 15-24 were around three times more likely to be unemployed than those aged 25 and over.

The COVID-19 crisis is expected to create more obstacles for young people in the labour market, it said.

For job seekers, a lack of vacancies is expected to lead to longer school-to-work transitions, while young workers risk losing their jobs amid the current wave of lay-offs and the collapse of businesses and start-ups.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, globally, 178 million youth were employed in the sectors hit hardest by the crisis, such as accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, real estate and other business activities.

The ILO study found that almost one-quarter (23.1 per cent) of respondents aged 18-24 who worked before the COVID-19 outbreak had stopped working, compared to 13 per cent among older youth (aged 25-29) and 10.6 per cent in the 30-34 age cohort.

Furthermore, youth (aged 18-29) were more prone to losing their jobs than those aged 30-34.

A closer examination shows that 40 per cent of those aged 18-29 who had stopped working gave job losses as the reason, compared to 29 per cent among those aged 30-34.

Most of the job losses among youth resulted from businesses ceasing to operate or else youth being laid-off, said the ILO.

A majority of the young people surveyed (54.0 per cent) who had lost their job since the onset of the pandemic gave either the business they worked for closing down or being let go as the reason.

A further one-third (32.4 per cent) indicated that a temporary job had ended, while only a small minority resigned (8.4 per cent) or gave "moving places" as a reason for job loss (5.0 per cent).

The ILO also said that young workers in clerical support, services, sales, and crafts and related trades were more likely to have stopped working.

Over one in four workers (27 per cent) in these occupations - which are associated with lower levels of formal education - had stopped working, compared to only 7 per cent in management positions, 15 per cent in the professional category and 14 per cent of those in the technical and associate professional occupational categories.

"Lockdowns and social distancing measures may explain the higher incidence of work halts among workers in occupations where tasks may demand frequent customer contact (i.e. sales) or the performing of subsidiary or support services reliant on a business remaining open," said the ILO.

The ILO study found that young workers in employment before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic reported on average a 23 per cent reduction in working hours, which for two in five (42 per cent) meant a lower income.

Income losses are concentrated among those with either a partial or full decline in working hours to zero. Four in five (78 per cent) of those reporting a full decline also saw a decrease in their income.

A majority (52 per cent) of young workers who saw a partial reduction in their hours (on average, a cut of 45 per cent, from 8.4 down to 4.6 hours worked daily) also reported a fall in income.

For slightly under one-third of youth (29 per cent), their working hours remained the same; nonetheless, one- quarter still reported their income was lower than before the onset of the pandemic.

With greatly diminished revenues, some businesses may have been driven towards reducing pay for the same number of working hours, said the ILO.

Three in five (61 per cent) young workers reported a self-assessed decline in work-related productivity since the onset of the pandemic.

Such a reduction in productivity was more prevalent among young women (64 per cent) than among young men (59 per cent).

Young workers employed in the private sector in support services and sales-related occupations appear the most vulnerable, the ILO reported.

Three in five young private sector workers (61 per cent) in these occupations reported a reduction in working hours, compared to around two in five workers in the public sector (43 per cent).

Most strikingly, 64 per cent of those working for a private sector employer reported a reduction in income, compared to 23 per cent in the public sector.

"These differential impacts on private sector workers may again be linked to business shutdowns or temporary closure," said the ILO.

It also reported that reductions in hours worked, income and self-assessed productivity are highest in low-income and lower middle-income countries.

Two in three (67 per cent) workers in low-income countries reported a partial or full decline in working hours, compared to 54 per cent in lower middle-income countries and 46 per cent in high-income ones.

Likewise, the proportion of young workers reporting a reduction in income and productivity was highest for low- and middle-income countries.

According to the ILO, the findings also show that among survey respondents young men were more affected by stopping working, reductions to working hours and income losses, whereas young women were more likely to report lower self-assessed productivity.

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of young workers reported working either partly or fully from home since the onset of the pandemic.

For those in managerial (82 per cent), professional (77 per cent) and technical occupations (78 per cent), it is more common to work fully or partly from home than is the case for support, sales and other workers, of whom slightly over one-half (54 per cent) had adopted this practice, said the ILO.

Fewer youth with a private sector employer reported working from home (68 per cent) than those employed in the public sector (77 per cent).

The share for those working fully or partly from home is higher among young women (75 per cent) than among young men (68 per cent).

The study also found that twenty-nine per cent of the young people who had stopped working benefited from some form of government response to the crisis, compared to 43 per cent of those who remained in employment and worked at least one hour per day.

Working youth received significantly higher levels of employee (26 per cent) and company support measures (14 per cent) and similar levels of income support.

In fact, employee and income support measures were often conditional on being employed, for instance, through a coverage/wage subsidy for reduced working hours, said the ILO.


According to the study, the closure of schools, universities and training centres affected over 73 per cent of the youth surveyed who were in education or training.

The effect of this was felt slightly more by those who were studying only (74 per cent), compared to those studying and working at the same time (69 per cent).

In total, since the onset of the pandemic, four in five young students surveyed (79 per cent) had their study or training interrupted.

Nearly one in eight (13 per cent) of young people saw their education and training come to a complete stop, with no courses, teaching or tests set since the pandemic began.

However, this overall finding has considerable regional differences: 44 per cent of young students in low-income countries, 20 per cent in lower middle-income countries and 4 per cent in high-income countries reported not having received any courses.

This points to reduced opportunities for the growth and development of youth and an increased risk of having school drop-outs, particularly in lower income countries, where some students, especially young women, may be unable to return to school due to a contraction in household income and the need to sustain a livelihood, said the ILO.

The ILO also said the transition to online and distance learning appears more widespread among youth in high-income countries, highlighting the large "digital divides" between regions.

Around the globe, education and training institutions closed their doors to students due to the pandemic and switched to delivering alternative learning opportunities.

A majority of young people adopted such alternative learning methods after the COVID-19 outbreak.

These included video-lectures given by teachers and trainers (57 per cent), online testing (43 per cent) and assignments to be completed at home (36 per cent).

Notably, 65 per cent of youth in high-income countries were taught classes via video-lecture, compared to 55 per cent in middle-income and 18 per cent in low-income countries.

The study found that despite efforts to ensure continuity in education and training services, 65 per cent of young people reported having learnt less since the onset of the pandemic.

With minor differences across country income level, 31 per cent of youth reported having learnt significantly less and 35 per cent slightly less.

Young women's perception of diminished learning was more acute than young men's (67 per cent versus 63 per cent, respectively).

Students whose schools had been closed reported a higher rate (70 per cent) of having learnt less, but even among the minority of students for whom schools continued to operate, almost one in two (48 per cent) registered an impact on learning.

"This underscores the widespread disruption to learning caused by the pandemic," the ILO said.

Even when, to some extent, institutions managed to transition to distance delivery, teachers, trainers and students may not have been adequately equipped to ensure continuity in learning, it added.

According to the ILO, factors hampering the effectiveness of online learning may include: (i) low levels of Internet access (ii) insufficient digital (and other relevant) skills to learn and teach remotely, (iii) lack of IT equipment at home, as well as other constraints such as (iv) lack of space, (v) lack of ready materials for remote teaching, and (vi) the absence of group work and social contact, both key components of the learning process.

According to the study, students' perceptions of their future career prospects are bleak, with 40 per cent facing the future with uncertainty and 14 per cent with fear.

They reported high levels of possible anxiety or depression, which could be related to the closure of schools and learning institutions depriving young people of social contact.

Yet young people haven't given up - about half have sought out new learning opportunities, despite the crisis and school closures, said the ILO, adding that forty-four per cent of the young people surveyed had pursued new training courses since the start of the pandemic, with a greater incidence among those who had completed tertiary education (53 per cent).

While most young people enrolled in courses to advance job-specific or technical skills (54 per cent), young people reported being interested in a variety of different training offers, from foreign languages, ICT and communication skills to problem solving and teamwork.

Family stress, social isolation, risk of domestic abuse, disrupted education and uncertainty about the future are some of the channels through which COVID-19 has impacted the emotional development of children and youth, said the ILO.

The survey found that, globally, 1 in 2 (i.e. 50 per cent) of young people aged 18-29 are possibly subject to anxiety or depression, while a further 17 per cent are probably affected by it.

Urgent, large-scale and targeted employment policy responses are needed to protect a whole generation of young people from having their employment prospects permanently scarred by the crisis, said the ILO.

These include the protection of young people's human rights; employment and training guarantee programmes; social protection and unemployment insurance benefits for youth; greater efforts to boost the quality and delivery of online and distance learning; and stronger complementarities with mental health services, psycho-social support and sports activities.

"Only by working together, with and for youth, can we prevent the COVID-19 crisis from having not only a negative but a potentially long-lasting impact on young people's lives," said the ILO.

By Kanaga Raja.

Source: SUNS - South North Development Monitor, SUNS #9179, 13 August 2020.