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How Covid-19 is affecting education

Updated: May 24, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic altered many aspects of life that were taken for granted, and in-person education was definitely one of them. With the lockdowns imposed by countries, schools and universities had to close down, which forced classes to move to online settings. This imposes some challenges and has also effects on students’ performance as well as students’ health.

Student performance

Before the pandemic, some students were already attending online classes, mostly the ones that required schedule flexibility. However, from Spring 2020 online classes became the new reality and new forms of learning and evaluation can be challenging for students and professors. Studies conducted before the pandemic show us different results about student performance in presential and online classes. A meta-analysis of studies conducted by Shachar and Yoram (2003) and Sachar and Neumann (2010), from 1990 to 2009, concluded that in 70% of cases, students taking online courses surpassed the ones taking the courses in person.

Differently, data by Brown and Liedholm (2010), based on the results of macroeconomic students, finds that students taking the courses on campus tend to outperform students taking the courses online. As such, it is still unclear if the pandemic had a positive or a negative effect on the overall performance of students, and it is likely that the performance is also affected by the subject being studied, as more practical classes tend to be more difficult to be taught online rather than more theoretical subjects.

In addition, access to the internet and equipment is also important, as the change in students’ performance from in person to online classes is negatively correlated with the difficulties they faced on this change, suggesting that students with poor or no access to the internet and with lack of equipment for online classes saw their school performance deteriorate.

Relation among students

Additionally, to the new way of learning, the pandemic also changed students’ daily routines and decreased the contact with each other. Contacting friends and family started being done online rather than in-person and many students were put at risk of social isolation, especially the ones living alone. The lack of academic life for higher education students and contact with friends and colleagues can be notably difficult for first-year students, as many universities opted for online classes for the entire academic year. It has become increasingly challenging for students to get to know each other.

Health impacts

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered students’ emotional wellbeing and mental health. The change in daily habits, delay of academic activities and economic results of the pandemic have put psychological pressure on students. Besides this higher level of pressure, students also reported more difficulty to concentrate and disruptions in their sleeping and eating patterns.

Evidence from a study conducted with students in the United States shows 76% of the participants were experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety during the pandemic, 44% of them were having depressive thoughts, with 8% saying that this has led them to have suicidal thoughts. Despite this increase in anxiety and depressive thoughts, only one participant declared receiving help from a professional therapist.

Along with the mental health effects, there is also a tendency for negative eyesight effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students are of course spending more time indoors, and research has concluded that scarce time spent outdoors increases the risk of myopia, furthermore, the high increase in screen time can also be an additional risk.

How can behavioural science help

Behavioural science can be helpful for improving students’ performance and health, specially at this uncertain time where it is really needed. The practice of physical activity can be a way of improving our mental health, as it increases dopamine synthesis, which enhances concentration and pleasure, positive for academic performance and a better mental health. However, due to the present bias, people tend to value the present more than the future, which makes them avoid exercising. Behavioural science could help promoting more interesting ways of exercising. Applications of BS are expected to go beyond the temporary situation of the pandemic. Another way in which behavioural science can be useful to keep students motivated and keep engaged in online lectures is to encourage mixing asynchronous and synchronous activities, as the asynchronous activities, like readings and pre-recorded lectures, allow students to take their own time and then on the synchronous activities, students can work in groups and discuss what they have learnt by doing the other activities on their own. This method keeps students more persuaded to go to classes and to participate more which is likely to increase their performance and overall mental health.

Wrapping up

The pandemic has completely changed routines and activities, which has imposed many challenges on education. Students had to adapt to this new reality which can have influenced their performance as well as their health and behavioural science insights can be helpful to overcome these difficulties.


Catarina Chambino - Research Analyst


Chisadza, Carolyn, Matthew Clance, Thulani Mthembu, Nicky Nicholls, and Eleni Yitbarek. 2021. "Online And Face‐To‐Face Learning: Evidence From Students’ Performance During The Covid‐19 Pandemic".

Aristovnik, Aleksander, Damijana Keržiˇ, Dejan Ravšelj, Nina Tomaževiˇc, and Lan Umek. 2020. "Impacts Of The COVID-19 Pandemic On Life Of Higher Education Students: A Global Perspective."

Son, Changwon, Sudeep Hegde, Alec Smith, Xiaomei Wang, and Farzan Sasangohar. 2020. "Effects Of COVID-19 On College Students’ Mental Health In The United States: Interview Survey Study".

Lebbe, Gauthier. 2021. "Student Mental Health During COVID-19".

Miller, Lucy. 2021. "Lockdown Screen Time Having Negative Effect On Nation’S Eye Health".

Woodend, Ashleigh, Vera Schölmerich, and Semiha Denktas. 2015. "“Nudges” To Prevent Behavioral Risk Factors Associated With Major Depressive Disorder".

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