Gross: COVID-19 effects will never fully end for Gen Z

%28Graphic+Illustration+by+Falyn+Sebastian+%7C+The+Collegian%29

(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Dillon Gross, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

So much of our lives are measured by our years in school. There’s always the next step for students currently in the school system. It goes from elementary school to middle school to high school and then, possibly, to college. For at least 12 years, there’s a clearly defined next step we can rely on.

Ad

Within each grade, there’s a very set routine students follow: Get up every day, go to school, talk to friends, do an extracurricular activity, go home and do homework, then sleep. Rinse and repeat. 

Suddenly, two years ago, COVID-19 changed everyone’s lives forever. Now that the vaccine exists and various waves have come and gone, it’s looking like things are finally starting to return to the way they were before. Well, maybe.

We can never truly return to the pre-pandemic normal because COVID-19 occurred during many students’ formative years. There have been changes on a mental level that can’t be solved by lifting mask mandates.

The psychological effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on students who feel like they have been cheated out of key experiences. Generation Z, born in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, grew up watching coming-of-age movies that romanticized the last semester of high school only to have it pulled out from under them with little notice. Senior prom, last sporting or performing arts events and even graduation were all corrupted by COVID-19. 

“Many people are starting to think COVID-19 is over and that the pandemic is fully behind us, but that is not the case. The effects of two years of reduced learning will be seen in classrooms for years to come.”

Teenagers, who are already at higher risk of mental illness, were forced to not see their friends for months and stay in their rooms all day. Combine that with a recession and parents who may have been out of a job, and it’s no wonder COVID-19 had such a significant impact on mental health.

Younger Gen Z has been more severely affected by this change. It’s hard enough learning remotely in your late teens. Imagine trying to do it at 7 years old.

Due to COVID-19 and the amount of time these kids spent out of school, there is a significant number of elementary and middle school students who are not achieving learning milestones as quickly as their predecessors did. 

According to an article by the Brookings Institution, testing scores between fall 2019 and fall 2020 from students in third through eighth grade showed these students suffered particularly in math. Students are expected to grow in their testing scores as they continue through school, but COVID-19 marked a significant decline in math skills.

A different study of Colorado students showed similar data: Testing scores dropped across the board. Students of all genders, income levels and races not only didn’t grow their knowledge, but they also lost it.

It comes down to parents simply being unequipped to teach their children. For many young students, it’s been decades since their parents learned how to do this type of math themselves, if they did it at all. Remote learning does exist, but teaching a second grader how to read is difficult enough, let alone through a computer. 

Ad

Remote learning in itself isn’t foolproof, either. For low-income students, getting a computer to do work all day and having a steady WiFi connection isn’t feasible. Students who did have remote learning often weren’t engaged or showing up consistently.

“Psychologically, COVID-19 will always have a place in Gen Z.”

COVID-19 has exacerbated an already existing problem called learning poverty. In short, learning poverty is described as when students aren’t getting the education they need to be successful. This correlates mostly to reading, as it is a fundamental skill that is incredibly important to education beyond elementary school.

The pandemic is most greatly affecting literacy rates in regions with higher levels of learning poverty, such as South Asia and Latin America. These students were already a year behind meeting global standards. Many people are starting to think COVID-19 is over and that the pandemic is fully behind us, but that is not the case. The effects of two years of reduced learning will be seen in classrooms for years to come. 

Psychologically, COVID-19 will always have a place in Gen Z. We can’t forget about this time in our lives, and we can’t pretend it didn’t happen. We can never truly return to the way things were before the pandemic. The best students can do is deal with the hardships that have been given to us over the past few years and try to carry on, reaching out for help when they need it.

Reach Dillon Gross at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @dillongrosss.