Millions of students are sitting at home due to the pandemic, but the condition is exclusively fragile for the class of 2020 - due to graduate this year. Just like their education, their life has also come to a standstill. Had it not been for the pandemic, they would have been busy planning out their future, pondering over their careers and higher education.
But now, all is lost in the bottomless pit of uncertainty. Their bigger concern has transitioned from being able to pursue their dream careers to being able to graduate at all.
"My previous plans have definitely changed largely. We're gradually shifting into a potentially broken economy with a looming recession, so my employment opportunities are going to shrink. I can't plan everything beforehand and have to wait for the turn of events," said Nousheen Sharmila Ritu, a would-be graduate of the department of criminology at the University of Dhaka.
Ritu's department was already five months behind in their academic session and Covid-19 has extended the duration of their suffering.
"I don't think the lost hours can be compensated fully. Even with extra classes, syllabuses are going to be curtailed. Given how crucial the last semesters are, I know for a fact the loss is fully irreconcilable."
Not just the class of 2020, Covid-19 has also paused the lives of HSC candidates of 2020, whose exams were scheduled for March. Not only has their exams gotten postponed, they have no idea about a tentative future date of the exams.
When asked about if this lockdown can have a negative impact on the upcoming HSC exams, Raiyan Ibne Hossain, an examinee from Notre Dame College, said, "This thought haunts me every day. I'm more doubtful of myself than ever. Though some of my peers have been doing online classes and indulged in regular studies, some like me are having issues concentrating."
In reality, education will have to be continued no matter how difficult the time is. As Raiyan said, "I study at times. But I have already started forgetting almost everything at this point or bits of everything which are important to achieve the result I desire."
Apart from suffering from issues with studying, students are dealing with emotional stress, anxiety and restlessness amid the pandemic. As Nousheen expressed, "The pandemic has taken a toll on my mental health given how anxious, hopelessness and distressed I feel."
The pandemic has also taken a raincheck on the impoverished students who were dreaming to have a well-paid job right away after graduation.
What the future holds
One thing for certain is that the class of 2020 is not graduating within the estimated time due to the pandemic.
Secondly, HSC candidates will have to endure a tremendous amount of pressure as they have to sit for back to back exams within a few days. This rush will affect their grades and plans for higher education.
For grad students, the future is uncertain, mostly because it completely depends on the universities how they are going to make up for the lost academic hours while finishing the semester as early as possible. But even after that, the job sector will float in a sea of uncertainty. According to ILO, half of the global workforce have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Landing a job will be more competitive in the post-pandemic job market as responsibilities and designations will not remain the same.
For those who want to study abroad, scholarship opportunities might decrease, at least for the next few semesters as universities have incurred severe financial losses amid the pandemic. According to Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), universities in the UK have projected a loss of more than £100m, as an effect of losing new students, which will have a multi-year impact. Universities in the USA, Australia or Europe are not doing any better.
Moreover, the post pandemic world will be different. If that is true, the world will need a proactive workforce. The freshers have to prepare themselves according to the demands or they may completely lose the fight.
What to do now?
Students are stuck in an uncertain situation and nothing can be done as an immediate fix. However, maintaining mental composure is important. Salowa Salam Shaoli, a mental health professional, said, "The students are going through anxiety so there is a possibility to develop generalised anxiety disorder. Things are not going as they expected and the risk of depression is increasing due to insecurity. Additionally, those who are witnessing firsthand experiences of Covid-19 will go through post traumatic symptoms even after they return to normal life once this is over. It might have a long lasting impact on their education."
She emphatically mentioned the only way to get through this situation is to self-motivate for fighting another day. "Instead of perceiving this situation as the end of the world, if the students focus on following the preventive measures against coronavirus and maintain a healthy lifestyle, some stress will be released."
Emphasizing primarily on having a healthy diet, exercise and adequate sleep, Shaoli has advised to maintain a schedule in this "new normal" lifestyle, as it could help to lessen bleak thoughts to some extent.
Above all, students need to engage in interpersonal sharing. As Shaoli said, "It's natural to feel suffocated by staying inside all the time. But you cannot let yourself continue to feel like this. You should communicate with people. It may be group calls or a one to one conversation. Always encourage yourself to talk to people because human interaction is the key to not feel alienated from the rest of the world."