When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Nordic countries in the spring of 2020, the extent and severity of the threat imposed on the health and welfare of the population was not immediately obvious. Restrictions were rapidly enforced in all Nordic countries, many of which directly affected the everyday life of children and young people.
There were, however, notable differences between countries and age groups. Schools quickly rearranged the education to be conveyed either exclusively or partly by remote contact instead of in the traditional way in the classroom. The possibilities for extracurricular social encounters and activities were in many places limited as hobby activities were put on hold and libraries and sports arenas were temporarily closed.
The short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are unfolding in the Nordic countries and worldwide, but the consequences in the long-term perspective are still unknown. During childhood and adolescence, the foundations for a healthy and successful life as an adult are laid. Both physical and mental health problems, as well as unfavourable economic and social circumstances, in childhood are often carried on into adult life unless active countermeasures are taken.
Decreased welfare among children and young people may thus have longstanding consequences both on an individual level, for families and communities and for future public health. Education has been subject to dramatic changes during the pandemic with diverse consequences for both the learning and wellbeing of children and young people. Crises during the formative years may negatively affect the impact of education, potentially hampering future employment, social inclusion and participation and the general development of societies.
Several negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the welfare of children and young people have been reported. The closing of schools has had a significant effect on educational practices and raised new challenges for teachers and school administrations to balance different needs and find processes and methods that attend to both the children’s learning requirements and their wellbeing. New learning technologies suitable for remote education have been developed under acute time pressure. There are signals that inequalities and gaps in school performance have increased, as several vulnerable subgroups of students have encountered substantial challenges in learning that may not have been fully noticed and met by means of pedagogical support.
The school is in a crucial key position to support the welfare of children and young people and mitigate the effects of some societal inequalities. In addition to the formal education and learning, the school provides a diverse platform for social interaction. Many children and young people felt depressed and lost the inspiration and enthusiasm to engage in their education as a result of being forced to attend school online from home instead of among their friends and in direct contact with teachers. Some young people engaged in vocational training had to put their education on hold.
Parents and other caregivers have different skills, possibilities, and abilities to support remote digital learning, which contributed to inequality among children and young people. Some were hindered to fully participate due to difficult family circumstances. Differences in living conditions, and factors such as size and environmental standards of housing, population density and the possibility to work and study undisturbed, would have influenced school performance as well as health and welfare. Further, the home is not the most secure place for all children, and an increase in domestic violence and in the need for child welfare services during the pandemic has been reported. Thus, the effects of digital learning on for example motivation and outcomes of teaching need to be seen in the light of differences and inequalities pertaining to factors such as socio-economic status, ethnic origin, segregation and health and welfare of families.
During the pandemic possibilities to partake in extracurricular activities were limited for many children and young people. This would have impacted on opportunities to create and maintain friendships, a sense of meaning and community. It also led to a decrease in both everyday physical activity and instructed sports and artistic hobbies which probably led to an increase of physical and mental health risk factors. Similarly, as for the education, these negative effects have not been equally distributed among the young, instead it seems that those who already had difficulties before the pandemic have been hit even harder than children and young people with better health or living in more stable circumstances.
The treatment and diagnosis of chronic diseases may also have been neglected during the pandemic, increasing the burden of disease in afflicted children. Moreover, the identification of mental and physical disorders has decreased as the resources of the health care system have not been adequate.
Available Budget: NOK 88 million.
- Marjo Kurki, NordForsk (Chair)
- Sara Illman, The Academy of Finland
- Teresia Weinberg, Forte, Sweden
- Kari Tonhild Aune, The Research Council of Norway
- Bylgja Valtýsdóttir, The Icelandic Centre for Research, Rannís
- Pernilla Nilsson, The Swedish Research Council
- Rasmus Emborg, Nordic Youth Council (observer)
- Sini Keinonen, Secretariat of the Nordic Council of Ministers (observer)