Nzimande distraught about Covid's effect on first year students

18 to 19-year-olds largely distressed, report says

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande
Image: GCIS

Minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande has expressed concern about the effect of Covid-19 on first year students.

Nzimande was speaking at the official release of a comprehensive study of the impact of Covid-19 on the youth and students in the post school education sector (PSET) on Monday, at an event held at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The study conducted by wellness and development agency Higher Health, with the support of the department of higher education, revealed that about 37.5% of 18 to 19-year-olds reported severe psychological distress. The study was conducted during the hard lockdown and 13,119 young people participated.

“The first year students are the ones who need to be on campus the most and they are also the ones who need to adjust from school to university. So, its very important that we focus on them,” Nzimande said.

Nzimande said the survey explored young people’s experiences and perspectives on the social impact of Covid-19 on education and learning in SA.

“From the results we know that 53% thought they were at low risk of contracting the virus and 15% perceived themselves at high risk. 

“This reinforces that it is important for students to understand that they are in fact carriers of the virus and whilst they may be asymptomatic they are at risk of transmitting to their parents and elderly grandparents.”

The report also showed that 41% of students were not able to purchase their own food during lockdown while 10% relied on food donations and 15% went hungry on some days.

Nzimande said 79% of students felt that they should get routine counselling support during the pandemic.

“It was for this reason that I instructed Higher Health to establish the 24-hour toll-free helpline and such psychosocial support must be used by our students for counselling for personal problems, study motivation, psychological support, among other. I again urge students to reach out for help.”

Nzimande said as much as they were aware and remained cognisant of the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on students, the study results have confirmed that conditions during lockdown affected internet connectivity, access to devices, data and study material, lesser study time, ability to pay rent, financial struggles, food security and hunger, loss of social contact, loss of family members, access to transport, medical care and chronic medication among others. 

“As we have access to new data on the coronavirus, including its mutations and the implications this has for biomedical and behavioural responses to it, Higher Health has created a PSET vaccination strategy that is aligned with and supports the department of health’s phased national strategy and coordinates its subsequent roll out. 

“The strategy will help to ensure access to vaccination for our students and staff, as vaccinations becomes available for our sector,” Nzimande said. 

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