Being young can be exciting and fun, but it is always challenging. Completing your studies, finding a job, finding somewhere to live – in short, taking the first steps of the rest of your life. If it was not easy before the Covid-19 pandemic, it is all the more difficult during this time. Besides all the uncertainty, the health crisis has affected young people’s social lives and prevented them from developing a network of friends and support that are vital to their well-being.
The impact has been experienced at many levels. One is the disruption in their learning pathways. Nearly three-quarters of 8- to 19-year-olds who were studying before the pandemic, experienced school closures – with thirteen per cent left without any access to courses, teachers or learning at all, because of gaps in online and distance learning. We have seen reductions in the funding of education, and the gaps will remain for years to come.
Besides education, employment has suffered too, with 8.7 per cent of young workers dropping out of the labour market.
All this has had a deep impact on young people’s mental health as well. Figures for the United States show that almost two-thirds of young adults have symptoms of psychological problems – with twenty-five per cent reporting increased substance use to deal with the stress of the pandemic, and twenty-five per cent saying they'd considered suicide.
In spite of the grim picture, I am hopeful that young people have the resilience and the vision to come out stronger from the crisis. Today, as in the past, young people are willing to fight to change things. They do not accept the increased inequalities of income and opportunities. They are at the vanguard of environmental campaigns. They promote solidarity and support for the most vulnerable. They are willing to risk their all to defend democracy. They are the driving force behind many social movements.
I observe it first-hand every day here at UNESCO, where young people’s enthusiasm and intelligence are helping to find solutions – not just for themselves, but, as in other campaigns, for all of us.
As we start to repair the damage of the pandemic and the policies that made it worse, let’s engage with youth, and for youth, to build a better world for us all in the years to come.
Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO