Nearly half of our country’s population is less than 25 years old, making India one of the youngest countries in the world. Are we treating our youth with the love and respect Generation Z deserves? This is a question every parent, professor, policymaker and politician should be asking themselves as the nation celebrates National Youth Day tomorrow.
The eternally youthful freedom fighter Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12. This spiritual leader believed that young people were capable bringing social change with muscles of iron and nerves of steel. The future – in the post-pandemic era and beyond – belongs to them, making National Youth Day 2021 truly significant. Yet the youth don’t have a sense of agency in a nation where they have a majority. Many were forced to travel and appear for exams during the pandemic and risk facing infections in the process.
Schools, colleges and institutes of higher education have been closed since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and all classes have moved online. While this was a necessary move for continuous education, digital learning has brought with it a host of troubles for college students. A girl from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi took her own life in 2020 because her family could not afford the gadgets for online lectures and her scholarship was also delayed because of the lockdown.
Students in rural and remote areas who don’t have the luxury of internet connectivity, computers or even smartphones for that matter are being deprived of an education. They might miss an academic year because their families cannot afford the devices required. Things are only slightly better for the youth in the cities. Even college students coming from middle-class families, which may have the means to support them, have their own set of woes to deal with. “I am spending 6-8 hours a day in front of the laptop. There is no reprieve from the extra load of classes, assignments and poor internet connectivity. What’s affecting our mental health the most is not being able to meet our professors or batch mates for almost a year,” says Divya Jagtap, a second-year BMM student from Mumbai University.
Asking the young and restless to sit still in front of a computer all alone for hours on end, day after day, is expecting too much of them. “I have never done something like this before. I always had my classmates around during lectures and project work. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that there are no extra-curricular activities to take my mind off the project load nor do I get to shoot the breeze with my friends like I used to,” says Cleo Menezes, a commerce student from Bengaluru who is looking forward to the reopening of colleges in 2021.
Examinations were another source of terror for the youth in 2020. Many were forced to travel for various professional and entrance examinations despite COVID-19 and restrictions on movement. In fact, they had to travel vast distances to do so. Law student Vijay Gupta travelled to Bhopal for LLB exam, only to be told that half the papers were postponed. “The designated exam centre was all the way in Bhopal. I was so paranoid while travelling. I was terrified in the whole journey from my home town to the centre. Of course, I was carrying masks and a sanitiser, but there was no guarantee that the bus, food and hostel were completely sanitised. Imagine having to study hard and then appear for an important exam in this state!” he says.
As colleges slowly reopen and lectures resume, Generation Z is treading the waters slowly. Their lives will never be the same again. Some have lost an academic year while some others have lost loved ones and nearly all of them have been deprived of the support system they call friends.