Pandemic spotlights education inequities. What schools are doing to close the gaps.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession hit in early 2020, everyone faced new challenges and abrupt life changes. Some individuals, families, and communities are experiencing the effects more acutely than others — and disruptions to Washington students are particularly concerning.  

“National studies indicate that interruptions in education because of the pandemic are hitting some students of color and students from low-income backgrounds particularly hard compared to their peers,” says Brian Jeffries, policy director for Partnership for Learning.

A recent McKinsey study estimates that, because of COVID-related remote learning, K-12 students could return to school in January 2021 experiencing seven months of learning loss — and losses could be greater if school buildings remain closed beyond January. The study also concludes that learning loss experienced by Black students (10.3 months), Latinx students (9.2 months), and students from low-income backgrounds (12.4 months) could be even greater.

“The pandemic is clearly magnifying educational inequities that have long existed,” Jeffries adds.

In the broader economy, communities of color, young workers, and those with a high school diploma or less are bearing the brunt of the downturn. More than half of Black and Latinx households nationwide reported employment loss due to the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in October for workers age 20 to 24 was more than 1.5 times that of workers age 25 to 54. About two-thirds of workers claiming unemployment in Washington state in November did not have a credential, a 12 percentage point overrepresentation compared to non-credentialed workers in the general population.

“A critical take-away from the current economic recession is that, more than ever, post-high school credentials are essential in our state’s economy,” Jeffries says. “As we all manage life during the pandemic, it is imperative that students continue to learn and get the supports they need to prepare for and complete a credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate.”

Strategies such as engaging families, partnering with community-based organizations, and using high-quality diagnostic tools can help maintain learning and support students, particularly those who are further from educational opportunity, to stay on track and work toward completing a postsecondary credential.

Supportive family involvement

As students navigate hybrid and virtual learning, both Liz Ritz, director of teaching and learning at Oak Harbor Schools, and Joycelin Vester, dean of students at North Whidbey Middle School, emphasize the importance of increased involvement with their students’ families to support academic success.

“It’s affirmation for parents to know that educators love and care about their kids and are thinking of them, even if we aren’t seeing them in person,” Vester says.

Educators are communicating with parents more intentionally and on an ongoing basis, and districts are getting creative about how they work together with parents to close equity gaps, says Michaela Miller, deputy superintendent at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

“The pandemic has created a different and more meaningful opportunity to engage with families. The creativity and innovation around parent connection are critically important in closing gaps,” Miller

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Seattle’s tuition-free community college program comes to the rescue during the pandemic | Momaha

Two years ago, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved an education levy giving the city’s public high-school graduates two years of free community college.

But just as the program was gearing up to start its first year at full capacity, the pandemic hit.

Schools shut down. And the recruitment and enrollment specialists stationed at each Seattle high school to raise awareness and help students apply could only work from home.

A summer session meant to help prepare students for college life? That had to be entirely redesigned.

And the students already enrolled in the program? They suddenly needed Wi-Fi, devices and a space to learn on their own.

And yet, in some ways, Seattle Promise couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite the hurdles, the program has exceeded its pandemic-era enrollment projections. That’s even as nationally, community colleges saw a 22% dip; statewide, community college enrollment is down 13.5% this year.

This fall, Seattle Promise counted 846 students, including 699 in their first year, and 147 in their second. That represents about one-third of Seattle Public Schools’ class of 2020. And 62% are students of color.

“There’s a pervasive narrative out there that some students don’t want to go to college. Our students and data suggest that students overwhelmingly want to go to college,” said Nicole Yohalem, opportunity youth initiatives director at The Community Center for Education Results, a nonprofit that provides data, research and other supports for schools in South King County. “They understand how critical some education post-high school is.”

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university lecturers in England on the impact of the pandemic

When the number of students infected with Covid-19 at the University of Birmingham rose sharply earlier this term, Gemma, a senior academic, hoped it would mean an end to in-person teaching. But this proved not to be the case.

a man sitting at a desk in front of a window: Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

“Our students are dropping like flies,” she said. “In my seminars roughly four to eight of 16 students attend. Yet the university insists we come in. To say we feel abandoned and disposable would be putting it too mildly.”

Lecturers across England told the Guardian they feel burnt out by the impact of the pandemic, in which tens of thousands of students have been infected since the start of term. Gemma said she was overwhelmed by the high volume of student emails about serious welfare issues, including many from those in self-isolation.

“Many of them say, ‘I’m confused, I’m frustrated, I’m barely hanging on’,” she said. “One student wrote to me saying, ‘I’m getting tested for Covid but I’m also starting to take medication for depression and who do I talk to?’ I feel out of my depth. I’m working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week dealing with this. I was just sobbing the other night on the couch, just feeling like this is not sustainable.”

a man sitting at a desk in front of a window: Some lecturers have mentioned receiving a high volume of student emails about serious welfare issues.

© Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Some lecturers have mentioned receiving a high volume of student emails about serious welfare issues.

The responses to the Guardian’s callout reflect a survey by the University and College Union in which staff required to teach in-person said they have not had robust risk assessments, and their institution has not published plans to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak. This comes as the government announced a staggered return for students in the new year, with most courses only taught online for several weeks.

Janet, a sessional lecturer at another university in the Midlands, expressed fears over the safeguards put in place for in-person teaching. She said her classrooms either only have a tiny window at the far end or the windows “do not open more than an inch,” raising concerns that the virus will linger in the air due to the lack of ventilation.

“Yet we’re sent in with a face shield, as if that would protect us from aerosol transmission,” she said. “I am seriously terrified of going in, especially because we are hearing that students don’t report their symptoms in fear of being locked in [their accommodation].”

Helen, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes university, said being forced to teach on campus felt like being “on the set of a disaster movie, like Outbreak, but without the full biohazard kit.” She added: “I feel depressed as ever more students are forced to drop out of face-to-face contact as a housemate is diagnosed with Covid. Once busy campus buildings feel like ghost towns.”

Many staff said that having to teach both in-person and online, as well as supporting anxious and isolated students, has increased their hours by

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South Korea’s university entrance exams were stressful enough. Then a pandemic arrived.

SEOUL —The biggest mission for Jo Yong-seok this week has been to keep coronavirus out of his Seoul home, where his 18-year-old son is studying 15 hours a day for the most important exam of his lifetime.

a group of people sitting at a table: South Korean students take their College Scholastic Ability Test at a school amid the coronavirus pandemic on Dec. 03, 2020 in Seoul.

© Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
South Korean students take their College Scholastic Ability Test at a school amid the coronavirus pandemic on Dec. 03, 2020 in Seoul.

On Thursday, nearly half a million students are taking the annual College Scholastic Ability Test. Known as suneung in Korean, it’s a multiple-choice standardized test similar to SATs, but with considerably higher stakes in education-obsessed South Korea.


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The eight-hour exam determines not only which university the younger Jo can attend, but also his future career opportunities, social standing and even marriage prospects. Students spend days and long evenings at expensive private cram schools preparing for the hypercompetitive exam.

Only this time, there was a pandemic.

[In South Korea, coronavirus gives kids a break from school pressures, but also traps them]

South Korea is struggling to contain a third wave of the coronavirus. The elder Jo, determined not to infect his son, has avoided seeing friends and gave up his favorite pastime of hiking. He even offered to forgo family meals and dine separately until the day of his son’s exam.

“My son has been studying all these years for this one day,” he said. “I can’t let the virus ruin it.”

In what she called a “desperate plea” a week before the exam, the country’s Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae urged the public to “entirely suspend everyday social activities” to tamp down infections.

a man standing in front of a window: A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination in Seoul, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

© Kim Hong-Ji/AP
A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination in Seoul, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

That day, South Korea reported 583 new covid-19 infections, the biggest one-day jump in eight months, with another 540 cases reported on the day of the exam.

Even during the pre-pandemic times, suneung proctors supervising the exams were banned from wearing perfume or high-heels, in case strong fragrances or the click-clack sound disturb students’ concentration.

This year, some will even be asked to don full protective gear to supervise the exam for at least 35 confirmed covid-19 patients and some 400 in quarantine. For this group, test papers are put in plastic bags and disinfected before grading.

“We pushed the beds out and brought the desks in,” said Yoon Jae-sik, spokesman for the Seoul Medical Center where five covid-19 patients are taking the test in a “negative pressure ward” designed to keep infectious germs from spreading outside.

“It’s a rather unusual setting but the patients are taking the exam in a calm manner,” he said.

At test venues, plastic dividers have been set up to separate desks, and students are required to wear masks at all times.

In previous years, suneung exam mornings kicked off with the sound of the younger students cheering for their seniors as they walked into the test center. That ritual has been banned

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Henry Ford College and Eastern Michigan University partner to offer scholarships to frontline workers amid COVID-19 pandemic

YPSILANTI, Mich., Dec. 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Eastern Michigan University and Henry Ford College (HFC) announced today a partnership to offer EMU scholarships to frontline workers who complete their HFC associate degree (Michigan Transfer Agreement recommended) and pursue a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Michigan University.

The partnership is an extension of HFC’s participation in the State of Michigan and Governor Whitmer’s “Futures for Frontliners” scholarship program, which pays for frontline workers to earn a tuition-free degree from a local community college. The application period for that program closes December 31.

“This is great news for the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who have been serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s good news for our economy,” said Governor Whitmer. “From the beginning, creating paths to prosperity for more Michiganders has been a top priority for my administration. I’m proud that our state has developed a way to give back to the Michiganders who have been working around the clock to protect us, and I am grateful for this partnership between Henry Ford College and Eastern Michigan University to help more people get on a path to opportunity.”

The partnership is also a natural fit given EMU and HFC’s strong, long standing relationship and more than 40 articulation agreements currently in place, including a recently established pathway for students who have earned an associate nursing degree at Henry Ford College to transfer their credits to Eastern.

“Our frontline workers put themselves at risk to serve Michigan citizens during a pandemic. Now we are putting them at the forefront by supporting their futures,” said HFC President Russ Kavalhuna. “This new partnership between Henry Ford College and Eastern Michigan University is an exciting opportunity for Frontliners to extend their education even further. It will maximize their investment in themselves as they seek new or advanced careers.”

EMU has over 150 articulation agreements with Michigan community colleges, the most of any university in the state.

Eastern Michigan will offer the following scholarship opportunities through the partnership:

  1. HFC Frontliners graduates who enroll at EMU and are Pell eligible will receive an EMU Frontliner Scholarship to cover their remaining tuition balance.  A Pell Grant plus the EMU Frontliner Scholarship = Free Tuition.  The scholarship will cover 12 credits of tuition for five consecutive semesters of enrollment at EMU.
  2. HFC Frontliners graduates who enroll at EMU and are not Pell eligible will receive an EMU Frontliner scholarship of $5,000 that will be split into increments of $1,250 for each of four consecutive semesters of full-time enrollment at 12 or more credit hours per semester.

Michigan’s frontline workers have worked tirelessly around the clock for months to maintain essential services and to keep our communities safe,” said Eastern Michigan University President James Smith. “This new scholarship initiative is an extension of the excellent collaboration we have had with Henry Ford College for many years and provides a new opportunity to reward frontline workers by

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California is failing to provide free and equal education to all during pandemic, suit alleges

The state of California has failed during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a free and equal education to all students, violating the state Constitution and discriminating against Black, Latino and low-income families, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

a man driving a car: The mother of a student at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School in Lynwood collects books from her vehicle. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

© Provided by The LA Times
The mother of a student at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School in Lynwood collects books from her vehicle. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

These children have been left behind during months of distance learning, lacking access to digital tools as well as badly needed academic and social-emotional supports, according to the lawsuit filed by the Public Counsel on behalf of California students, parents and several community organizations.

The suit also alleges that students have been harmed by schools that fail to meet required minimum instructional times and to provide adequate training and support to teachers.

“The State’s abdication of responsibility and insufficient response to the challenges of remote learning have denied Plaintiffs the basic educational equality guaranteed to them by the California Constitution,” the complaint said. “Because the State’s pandemic response compels families to use their homes as classrooms, the State’s constitutional obligations expand into the home.”

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, names as defendants the state, Department of Education, Board of Education and state Supt. of Instruction Tony Thurmond.

Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement: “Throughout the pandemic this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health. We will defend our position in court.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the department had not reviewed the lawsuit and could not comment. A spokeswoman for the state board deferred to the governor’s office.

Angela J., a plaintiff named in the complaint and a parent of three elementary-age children in the Oakland Unified School District, said that her twins, who were in the second grade last year, received live instruction with a teacher only twice from the time when schools closed in mid-March to the end of the school year. The students weren’t assigned packets or other materials to make up for the lost time.

“The teacher totally dropped the ball,” Angela J. said in an interview. (The lawsuit named the parent and student plaintiffs with pseudonyms to protect their privacy.)

When she finally reached the teacher after repeated phone calls and messages, the teacher said that because some students weren’t able to get online for remote learning, she had canceled classes for all students.

Angela J.’s children struggled to learn place values and multiplication, and their difficulties have persisted into the fall. Now in the third grade, they receive only 75 minutes of live instruction daily — well below the 230 instructional minutes required for students in grade 1 through 3 during the pandemic — and are left on their own to complete work off a checklist. The teacher has not provided any supplies or materials, according to the complaint.

“There’s no schedule, no

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India to launch Shukrayaan Venus mission in 2024 after pandemic delays: reports

India plans to launch a new orbiter to Venus in 2024, a year later than planned, according to media reports.

A view of Venus from NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft based on data captured in 1974.India is now planning to launch its own Venus orbiter in 2024.

© Provided by Space
A view of Venus from NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft based on data captured in 1974.India is now planning to launch its own Venus orbiter in 2024.

The Shukrayaan orbiter will be the first mission to Venus by the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) and will study the planet for four years, according to SpaceNews, which cited a presentation by an ISRO research scientist at a NASA-chartered committee Nov. 10. 


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ISRO has been soliciting ideas for instruments for a Venus-based mission since at least 2018, according to its website. At the planetary science committee, ISRO’s T. Maria Antonita presented more information about Shukrayaan during a discussion about NASA’s new 10-year plan for planetary science, SpaceNews reported.

Related: India looks beyond the moon to Mars, Venus and astronaut missions

“ISRO was aiming for a mid-2023 launch when it released its call for instruments in 2018, but Antonita told members of the National Academies’ decadal survey planning committee last week that pandemic-related delays have pushed Shukrayaan’s target launch date to December 2024,” SpaceNews stated in a Nov. 19 report. 

A backup launch opportunity is available when Venus and Earth are next aligned in mid-2026, in such a way to minimize spacecraft fuel use during the planetary transit, Antonita added.

Shukrayaan is set to launch on India’s GSLV Mk II rocket, but it may go on the more powerful GSLV Mk III rocket to carry more instruments or fuel, Antonita told the committee. ISRO will make a final decision in the next three to six months.

The spacecraft will carry several instruments to probe the Venusian environment. The flagship instrument will be a synthetic aperture radar to examine the Venusian surface, which is shrouded by thick clouds that make it impossible to glimpse the surface in visible light. An earlier version flew on the Indian Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft now orbiting the moon, Space News reported.

Another instrument will be a Swedish-Indian collaboration known as the Venusian Neutrals Analyzer, which will examine how charged particles from the sun interact with the atmosphere of Venus, according to The Economic Times. An earlier generation of this instrument launched on the Indian Chandrayaan-1 moon mission of 2008-09, studying how the sun’s particles affect a world with a far more tenuous atmosphere.

Shukrayaan will also bring an instrument to Venus to examine the planet’s atmosphere in infrared, ultraviolet and submillimeter wavelengths, Antonita said. Earlier in 2020, scientists announced the possible detection of phosphine —  a life-friendly element —  in Venus’ atmosphere, although many in the science community remain skeptical of the findings. 

In September, the French space agency (CNES) announced it would also fly an instrument on Shukrayaan. The Venus Infrared Atmospheric Gases Linker (VIRAL) is a collaboration with Russian federal space agency Roscosmos. Antonita added that other instruments have been shortlisted and that India plans to fly an instrument from Germany.

Dozens of

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Spring semester classes will remain virtual at Huston-Tillotson University due to coronavirus pandemic

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Citing ongoing health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, classes for the upcoming spring semester will remain virtual for students at Huston-Tillotston University in Austin.

The university’s president and CEO, Colette Pierce Burnette, made that announcement Monday in a letter sent to the school community. She wrote that the university based its decision on scientific advice about the expected surge in cases and deaths as well as the anticipated release of a vaccine for the general public next year.

“The safety and health of the entire campus community remain paramount as our top priority,” Pierce Brunette wrote. “Please understand that the decision to be fully online was by no means an easy one. Unfortunately, the key factors leading to our decision for the fall term are still prevalent, and in some cases, even more daunting. Continuing with fully online teaching and learning is the best decision for our campus.”

She reminded students about the online support services that remain available to them during the next semester, including one-on-one virtual tutoring and emergency grants.

Pierce Burnette also shared Huston-Tillotson University will soon provide what she called a “persistence grant” to registered students. She said this will help them with “costs of obtaining an education during such a tumultuous time.” More information will be released later this week, she wrote.

Huston-Tillotson Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Wayne Knox said his team was monitoring the effects of the pandemic is having on Black and brown communities, in particular. Seeing a continued increase in cases, plus a vaccine forecasted to be distributed to the general public in the spring, at best, the decision was made to go fully virtual.

“We just did not feel comfortable running the risk of having a surge here on campus,” Knox said.

“Continuing with teaching and learning virtually for the spring semester is a crucial step in keeping us healthy, stopping the spread, and defeating the virus so we can all be together soon,” Pierce Burnette said in her letter. “Please remain vigilant in protecting yourselves and your loved ones from the spread of COVID-19 — wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds, and maintain a safe distance.”

Huston-Tillotson junior English student Dymon Moore said she misses the camaraderie and fellowship with students on campus, but feels thankful the school is being proactive to minimize harmful risk of transmitting COVID-19 among the population.

“It shows that the school is taking the pandemic seriously. They are valuing their staff and faculty health. They are valuing their students health,” Moore said.

Knox said there may be a drop in enrollment, but he doesn’t believe it will be substantial. He said the University, which has held its spot in Austin for nearly a century and a half, isn’t going anywhere.

“With us being here for 145 years, we have weathered storms before. We will weather this one, as well,” Knox said.

Other local higher education institutions are announcing changes for the spring semester because of the ongoing pandemic.

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Westfield State University Viewpoint: Pandemic resilience reminds of reasons to give thanks

Today is a Thanksgiving unlike any other in recent memory. No doubt as you read this, you and your loved ones may be preparing a smaller meal to be savored only by those in your household. Your table is set for immediate relatives and with one extra place setting – where your laptop or mobile device will be stationed to virtually connect with family members and friends who cannot join you in person.

This sounds like the Thanksgiving my wife, Barbara, and I are celebrating today in Westfield. Our children and grandchildren live thousands of miles away, and this year will be the first in many we have not gathered in person. We miss our family very much and long to be with them as much as you likely wish to be with yours. We also miss petting and playing with our two Brittanies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made this a highly challenging year. For some, it has even been tragic; the quarter-million deaths (as of press time) are being felt by families in most every state, county, and city or town.

Despite this immense adversity, 2020 has shown us that we as a community and as individuals can move mountains and face challenges with bold vision and swift precision.

Here at Westfield State University, for example, we transitioned to being a virtual institution last spring in a matter of two weeks, and faculty and staff were able to transition their work lives to being completely remote. Not too long ago, being away from the office was frowned upon by employers. The pandemic has likely changed that forever.

We have offered our students flexibility with temporary pass-fail and remote-learning options while working to maintain a robust sense of community for safe interaction with their peers as well as with faculty and staff. We have also created even more flexibility in our admissions process. For prospective students applying to Westfield State, they can now choose whether to submit their SAT scores.

The pandemic has created change everywhere, and in the last few months, I have observed the following:

• Zoom meeting interruptions from a dog barking, a child chatting, or a cat strolling through are welcome distractions. These moments are humanizing and relatable by all on the Zoom call. I often have Barbara pop into our Zoom meetings, and I enjoy meeting my colleagues’ children, partners, and pets;

• Higher education remains highly relevant and in demand, despite life seemingly being on hold all around us. College campuses serve as a microcosm of broader society; we are figuring out how to get it done;

• In the face of pandemic stress, our students have shown resiliency, despite the recent increase in COVID-19 positive test results across Massachusetts and on our campus; and

• For the greater good, we have all reprioritized how we live our lives in 2020.

You may have read that Westfield State activated its curtailment plan earlier this month, further limiting person-to-person contact. I appreciate the continued patience

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Hong Kong university students’ internships yet another casualty of coronavirus pandemic, survey finds

a group of people standing in a parking lot: Internships for Hong Kong students have been much harder to come by this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Winson Wong

Internships for Hong Kong students have been much harder to come by this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Winson Wong

Nearly half of Hong Kong university students lost or were unable to find internships due to the coronavirus pandemic, while half of those who did were forced to get their job experience virtually, a new survey has found.

Internship openings listed on a joint system shared by local universities decreased by about 30 per cent this year, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found, prompting a call for the government to provide funding to allow students to take part in more expensive overseas internship opportunities.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted internships and we have seen a large drop in the number of openings being offered,” said Derek Lee Ka-wai, of the federation’s think tank, Youth IDEAS education group.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Hong Kong’s economy shrunk by 3.4 per cent in the third quarter compared to last year, as key drivers of growth such as tourism and consumption have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Will revamping Hong Kong’s liberal studies end critical thinking among students?

Dr Frankie Lam King-sun, the director of Lingnan University’s human resource management and organisational behaviour programme, said companies were already facing difficulties in managing existing manpower, even asking employees to work fewer hours to deal with a shrinking economy.

“There is very little incentive for companies to hire interns for both big or small companies,” he said.

Lee said work-from-home measures encouraged by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus had also changed how students interned, with both universities and corporations switching to online “virtual” internships.

But Youth IDEAS’ latest survey, conducted between late September and mid-October, found students still valued internships as an important way for them to learn the ropes of their chosen fields and to network and build contacts.

a group of people standing around a bench: The number of internships available to students shrank by some 30 per cent, according to one measure. Photo: Nora Tam

© Provided by South China Morning Post
The number of internships available to students shrank by some 30 per cent, according to one measure. Photo: Nora Tam

According to the think tank’s survey of 877 recent graduates and university students in their second year and above, 48 per cent either had their internships postponed or cancelled, or were unable to find any at all.

Shirley Ko Suet-lai, also from Youth IDEAS, said students who could not find internships were still proactive in seeking out job experience, with more than 50 per cent of them taking up part-time employment and 37 per cent choosing to learn new skills.

Meanwhile, out of the 457 students who did find internships, nearly 55 per cent did their work virtually. The students surveyed came from different fields, including law, accounting and even speech therapy, with respondents saying they would have meetings online or hold therapy sessions virtually.

Some 65 per cent of those students said virtual internships decreased the chances for them to interact with their

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