THE Covid-19 lockdown has turned learning upside down.
Many students have struggled to adjust from a system of mainly face-to-face learning to one that is almost entirely online. This is a challenge that no other generation of students have faced.
Final year students have gone through the pressure to graduate ‘on time’ while learning from home, even though some students in rural areas do not have adequate Internet connectivity to fully participate in online classes.
And, despite the fact that this generation is probably the most educated, they face real problems in getting their first foot in the job market.
Even before Covid-19, Malaysian students were graduating into an inhospitable job market, with almost twice as many new graduates as high-skilled job vacancies.
According to the British Council, Malaysian university graduates also experience a higher unemployment rate than youth with only a secondary education, while the Higher Education Ministry’s Graduate Tracer Study indicates that 60% of graduates remain unemployed one year after graduation.
The economic hit of Covid-19 makes this situation all the more difficult, especially at a time when, despite a low inflation rate, the cost of living is rising.
In the years ahead, today’s graduates will also have to cope with increasing automation, widening global inequality, conflict, competition for natural resources and climate change.
This generation of students are equal to the task.
They are a demographic increasingly committed to improving the health of society and the planet, rather than pursuing only their own prosperity as individuals.
This is especially so in Malaysia, where a recent study of students aged between 13 and 19 showed that almost four out of five (79%) would like to pursue a career that allows them to make a positive contribution towards solving a pressing global issue.
Almost all (94%) said they take some form of individual action to tackle their top issue of concern, and more than three quarters (77%) said they would consider a potential employer’s attitude towards their most important global issue when applying for jobs.
Today’s students also have more opportunities to change things for the better.
Technology and social media have given them a voice, making it possible for them to create new solutions and potentially influence millions of people with new ideas.
Changing the world no longer requires a position of power in a large institution – it can be as simple as devising a new app, or building a following for a cause on social media.
Today’s students also have an instinctive grasp of how to use the tools available to them to make a difference in others’ lives, without assumptions that things must be “done in a certain way”.
They are free to break new ground and think outside the box.
And it is the fact that students are pursuing an education, learning new ideas and skills, that is key to fixing our future.
Students today are the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.
They are creatives who will find clever and high-impact ways of inspiring and persuading people, the journalists and commissioning editors who will shape the agenda, and the CEOs and charity leaders who will help the world find solutions.
To give students the best chance of delivering on their promise, however, we need to listen to their voices in a world where debates are increasingly crowded with loud and divisive opinions.
This is why Chegg.org and the Varkey Foundation have launched the Global Student Prize for inspirational students. The Prize will provide a powerful new platform for students to highlight major problems and their solutions in a world that needs bold ideas.
Those shortlisted for the Top 50 finalists will also become Chegg Changemakers – members of a global community of students working together to make life better for their peers and the planet they will inherit.Today’s students are shouldering a heavy burden. Now more than ever, we must shine a light on their stories and listen to their voices.
After all, it is their dreams, their insights and their creativity that, if harnessed, can rescue our precarious future from the many forces that threaten to overwhelm us.
Lila Thomas is the head and social impact director of Chegg.org. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.
Note: Students applying for the Global Student Prize must be at least 16 years old and enrolled in an academic institution or training and skills programme. Part-time students, as well as students enrolled in online courses, are also eligible for the prize. They will be assessed on their academic achievements, impact on their peers, and how they make a difference in their community and beyond, overcome the odds to achieve, demonstrate creativity and innovation, and operate as global citizens. Applicants will be narrowed down to Top 50 shortlists and Top 10 finalists. A ceremony will be held later in the year to announce the winners. Applicants can apply via globalteacherprize.org. The closing date is April 30.