How COVID-19 is affecting students and employees worldwide

No matter where you are or whether you are a student or an employee, your life has changed dramatically amid the COVID-19 pandemic where social distancing is key. Most people now rely on their laptops for studying and working, and have to meet their teachers, classmates and colleagues online. With millions around the world currently e-learning and working from home, how many actually find these means efficient and satisfactory? 


From February to June, researchers at Lingnan University in Hong Kong led by Professor Joshua Mok, Vice-President and Dean of Graduate School assessed the impact of COVID-19 on students and employees worldwide, and have now come up with opportune suggestions and initiatives aimed at policy makers and the general public.


The survey found that only 27 per cent of university students in Hong Kong are satisfied with online learning, which was adopted in early February when the outbreak first occurred in the city, and that 60 per cent said online learning is of less benefit than classroom teaching.


Apart from being anxious about the “stability of internet connection” (about 60%), “no in-class interaction” (about half) and “lack of after-class communication and engagement with instructors” (46%) are the main criticisms of online learning.


Forty-eight per cent of respondents said their study pressure increased when learning online, while 54 per cent said their studying efficiency decreased.


On an international level, the research team from the School of Graduate Studies collected 583 valid responses from international/non-local higher education students from 26 countries and regions in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America, and found nearly 90 per cent of respondents said the outbreak had caused “moderate to extreme” disruption to their learning activities.


At the time of the survey, 61 per cent of respondents were still in their country/region of study, and 14 per cent said they would not know how to seek help if they were to develop COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, nearly half the respondents (47.5%) felt at risk from COVID-19, and approximately 71 per cent expressed concern. These worries, as well as the implementation of preventive measures such as social distancing, meant that approximately 45.2 per cent of students felt lonely.


In stark contrast, employees have generally found working from home favourable and satisfactory. Another survey by School of Graduate Studies on Hong Kong employees’ attitudes towards working from home shows that over 70 per cent of respondents said work from home allowed them to rest more, while 64 per cent said it reduced work stress. About half (49.2%) of the respondents said they maintained a better relationship with family members.


Unsurprisingly, over 80 per cent of respondents would prefer to work from home for at least one day per week even after the pandemic.


Like students, employees see the workability of hardware, software and connectivity as key features when working from home, and there is no doubt that this should be the focus of both universities and companies wishing to enhance efficiency in learning and working, as well as to improve users’ satisfaction.


In the long term, LU researchers suggest schools find ways to further integrate e-learning elements with face-to-face classes, combining the best of both approaches, and that companies adopt more flexible work arrangements, with a work-from-home option to motivate employees.