Shaz Memon and Zeeshaan Shah argue that online mentoring may offer a policy solution for ensuring the young are not left behind in the post-pandemic recovery.
In the short term, the cost of COVID (and lockdown) is measured in human lives. In the medium term, it is in economic damage. But in the long term, it is in the damage it will do to a generation through disrupted education, reduced career prospects, and ruined mental health. Mentoring can heal the generational divides, and provide today’s young with the opportunities enjoyed by their parents and grandparents.
The alternative is for generational inequalities to become cemented over our lifetimes, leaving ‘Generation Covid’ without the support, advice and opportunities they need to overcome the social and financial difficulties they face.
COVID has certainly presented challenges for such a project: at a time when billions of children and young people have had their education disrupted, mentoring schemes will be the least of their worries. This is particularly the case in the developing world, where digital divides can become chasms and internet access – often the only safe way for both education and mentoring to be delivered – is a luxury of the upper classes. However, public internet access points (eg. internet cafes) as well as increased internet access (which is one of the best investments a global south government can make) can widen access to both learning and mentoring.
Even before the pandemic, younger generations were facing falling social mobility. They have been facing falling real wages, fewer opportunities and declining living standards. Data from the Office of National Statistics indicates that the virus has worsened existing inequalities based on age, race, ethnicity and health status.
COVID has also exacerbated workplace divides. Just under a quarter of employees in Britain have been furloughed, with 6.3 million jobs temporarily laid off by 800,000 companies. Many others have been laid off completely.