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Students and teachers’ well-being and mental health after the pandemic

12.02.2024 Olli Oosi Avainsanat: , ,

This blog is a summary prepared for EDUCA exhibition in January 2024. Some of these points are meant for discussion starters rather than research findings and by no means this is a systematic review of research literature. We hope this summary provides a quick glance for what has been written around the subject.

Is it over already, should we stop talking about it?  – Long-focus lens is missing

What we know about the impact of the pandemic to students’ and teachers’ well-being, seems to be based on relatively short time-period. It has been an interesting exercise for us to go through the existing research. Most of it dates around 2020 or 2021 except for national school health promotion studies that form a continuous data collection. In general, themes of well-being and mental health are also included, but only as one theme among many others: equality of education, learning results or segregation are the keywords for titles around the topic. In the future longer follow-up might be even more relevant, as it would also shed some light on how these kinds of extreme shocks are rippling through various sectors of the society.

One could also argue that it would be wise to move forward. As one teacher we discussed with mentioned, the school is like a train, it is going forward, and life goes on, and suddenly you don’t even remember the pandemic anymore. There is some practical wisdom around this attitude.

Students’ well-being challenged during and after the pandemic

At the time of crisis, the pandemic had a major impact on well-being for both students and teachers. Some of the key findings from the students’ viewpoint are summarised in the following table.

Primary school / Lower secondary schoolFrom 2017-2019 to 2021, anxiety and depression increased at the population level among all adolescents. The interaction analysis revealed that the increase was higher among adolescents with cognitive and mobility disabilities and lower among those with sensory disabilities compared to adolescents without disabilities. The increase in the prevalence of the unmet need for support was similar for those with and without disabilities, except for support from social workers/psychologists, where the unmet need was higher among those with mobility disabilities. (Holm & Al. population-based cross-sectional data from the Finnish School Health Promotion study of lower secondary school students obtained in 2017 (n = 73,678), 2019 (n = 87,215), and 2021 (n = 91,560).

Among females, an increasing trend in generalized anxiety (GA) between 2013 and 2019 was found (OR per year 1.05), and the prevalence increased from 15.5 % to 19.7 %. Among males, the trend was decreasing (OR = 0.98), with prevalence from 6.0 % to 5.5 %. Increase in GA from 2019 to 2021 was stronger in females (19.7 % to 30.2 %) than males (5.5 % to 7.8 %), while the effect of COVID-19 on GA was equally strong (OR = 1.59 vs. OR = 1.60) against the pre-pandemic trends. Remote learning was associated with elevated levels of GA, especially among those with unmet needs for learning support. (Kiviruusu et al 2023) (Data from the Finnish School Health Promotion study with 750,000 participants aged 13–20 between 2013 and 2021 was analyzed using GAD-7 to measure self-reported GA (cut-off ≥10). Inquiries were made about remote learning arrangements. Effects of time and COVID-19 were analysed with logistic regression.)

In the study commissioned OPH (Finnish National Agency for Education) most of the respondents felt that the pandemic had weakened their wellbeing (75 %) and it made learning more difficult (around 48 %).  (Panula et al 2013, n = 534)
Upper secondary schoolUpper secondary: Based on surveyed students at upper secondary schools during 2021 (Owal Group 2021, n = around 1500)
– 14 % considered pausing their studies due to pandemic (especially high school)
– Organisers of education assessed that the pandemic had impact on well-being and equity of students. 97 % of surveyed organisers during 2021 assessed that the pandemic had negative impact at least to some extent.  (Owal Group 2021, n = 158, please note that these are organisers)
– Upper secondary: 72 % of student respondents felt distance education mentally taxing
– 44 % of surveyed students felt that distance learning was an appropriate way for studying and 41 % thought that distance education was not appropriate way to study for them. (Owal Group 2021, n = 1501)
Vocational education and trainingDuring 2021 31 % of organisers told that studies were carried according to originally planned schedule and 69 % reported for delays in studies.  (Owal Group 2021, organisers, n = 152)

During 2021 a 20 % of surveyed VET students were planning to have a pause in their studies because of pandemic. Reasons: Economical, too burdensome, weak employability probabilities after education (Owal Group 2021, n = 2300)

During 2021 95 % of organisers assessed that the pandemic had negative impact on students’ wellbeing at least to some extent or to great extent.  (Owal Group 2021, organisers, n = 100)

From the student’s perspective The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) reports that the emphasis the crisis laid on self-guidance puts students in inequal position. In extreme situations these differences are widened by problems in life control, learning difficulties and different opportunities to study at home. In the national evaluation it was noted, that especially for those students who already had motivational issues, the strain and studying challenges led to cumulative issues. These students felt the support and progress weaker than the rest of the student population (see Goman et al. 2021 for more details).

“During the pandemic/distance education those who were already in difficult position regarding school fell even deeper. If they had difficulties to come into school, it was almost impossible after that…  (a small portion of) students in our school were left in the situation, were it was impossible for them to return to normal schoolwork and they needed all kinds of additional arrangement and supports (partial distance-learning, social and health services etc.) or other forms of learning such as “workshops” (työpajat in Finnish)” A teachers viewpoint of the long-tail in 2024

In the research recently after the pandemic, there has been concern that the pandemic has made the learning more difficult for those who are in the most vulnerable position (Schleicher 2020). In Finland, this has meant people with immigrant background, those needing special or enhanced support or those who have limited access to the internet (see Metsämuuronen & Nousiainen 2021 for discussion). Day-to-day experiences of teachers today in 2024 reflect that some of these students are still ”lagging behind” or those who suffered motivational issues, continue to suffer from those still today, after several years of the pandemic. Some of these students still miss the distance-education. This has also been reflected in earlier Finnish studies where challenges in self-guidance have been mentioned as the key problems, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Goman et al., 2021)

Impact on teachers’ wellbeing

Impact to the teacher’s wellbeing has not been so widely researched, albeit discussed, and the data is much more sporadic than the students’ viewpoint. Some of the recent findings from the Finnish reports and surveys is summarised in the table below.

Primary school and lower secondary schoolLack of support from the work community and general uncertainty has been the main factors for weaker wellbeing at work (Pöyhtäri 2022)

After the pandemic in some surveys almost 59 % of teachers told to experienced relatively much or very much stress during spring 2020. Only 40 % meant that they have recovered well at the time.  (HY & UTA 2022)

After very special actions during 2020, many of the personnel surveyed have also noted, that the support for distance teaching or e-schooling has been decreasing.  Or worked better during the special period.  (HY & UTA 2022)

“There were some teachers who displayed a pattern where higher levels of work engagement (representing the positive aspect of occupational well-being) were accompanied by lower levels of stress (representing the negative aspect of occupational well-being); however, some teachers also displayed a pattern in which work engagement and occupational stress both remained at relatively high or average levels.” (Pöysä, Pakarinen, Lerkkanen 2021, n = 279)
Upper secondary school and vocational educationIn 2021 81 % of surveyed upper secondary teachers (and guidance personnel) felt, that work well-being was much lower than before the crisis. 13 % assessed that the wellbeing was at the same level as before the crisis (Owal Group 2021, n = 417 respondents).

During 2021 75 % of vocational education teachers (n = 428) felt their work well-being lowering during the pandemic as compared to the time before the pandemic while 17 % mentioned that it was at the same level after the pandemic as before it. (Owal Group 2021)

During 2021 33 % of surveyed vocational education teachers (n = 426) told that the employer has supported health and well-being by developing e-work tools and environments. 21 % told that personnel has been supported in making efforts in creating community and 16 % had supported physical activities. However, 39 % stated that there have been no special actions to support wellbeing at work. (Owal Group 2021)
GeneralFor many teachers the tools and methods for distance teaching were new during the pandemic. Some surveys point, that even half of the teachers were new to this (OAJ 2020). This meant huge amount of learning, and also stress for new arrangements. (see Ahtiainen et al. 2020, Kim & Asbury 2020). This has meant additional time investment for work (OAJ 2020). However, 2/3 of the respondents felt that overall, the special implementation of distance learning went relatively well.
Overall, the pandemic has meant general challenges in management and leadership of work-related wellbeing both in city, school and community levels. (UTA 2022, n = n. 360).

In the current situation, many point out that basically the pandemic has successfully been left behind, but more challenges the students face today, more it affects also teachers work and well-being at work.

Then what to do?

Need for more support. FINEEC has mentioned key recommendations to support wellbeing at work and in schools, related to COVID-19 pandemic. These are for example support learning, digital guidance and digi-pedagogical skills for teachers, better national guidance and better quality assurance and evaluation at the local level. (Goman et al. 2021)

Need for human centric viewpoint in developing schools and services around schoolwork (for students and teachers alike). In practical terms, many findings report, that the pandemic has affected those, who already had challenges and issues (and what this issue or challenge is, depends on the ”sectoral eye-glasses” the commentator is wearing). The concept of ”support” seems to be sectoral and those students or teachers alike, who have had challenges during the COVID-19, may be struggling for different things. There is an evident lack of human-centric approach towards these youth and their families. All sectors take a slice of their part of the responsibility and the lack of holistic approach to tailor educational (and other) support is evident. This is also a challenge for mental health and social services, not just something relevant for schools.

New dimension for school safety and well-being management. From school management perspective the COVID-19 might have taught us various things about the importance of risk management and proactive safety measures and crisis management. There are still room for sharing of best practices.


Goman, J., Huusko, M., Isoaho, K., Lehikko, A., Metsämuuronen, J., Rumpu N., Seppälä, H., Venäläi- nen, S., & Åkerlund, C. (2021). Poikkeuksellisten opetusjärjestelyjen vaikutukset tasa-arvon ja yhdenvertaisuuden toteutumiseen eri koulutusasteilla. Osa III: Kansallisen arvioinnin yh- teenveto ja suositukset. Julkaisuja 8:2021. Kansallinen koulutuksen arviointikeskus. https://karvi.fi/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/KARVI_0821.pdf

Helsingin yliopisto ja Tampereen yliopisto. 2022. KOULUNKÄYNTI, OPETUS JA HYVINVOINTI KORONAEPIDEMIAN AIKANA KOULUYHTEISÖSSÄ. Tutkimuksen väliraportti: https://www.helsinki.fi/assets/drupal/s3fs-public/from_d7/poikkeusolot_tutkimus_raportintiivistelma.pdf

Holm M, Kiviruusu O, Helenius J, Sainio P. Population-level changes in anxiety and depression and the unmet need for support at school among adolescents with and without disabilities, 2017–2021: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemicLinkki toiselle sivustolleAvautuu uudessa välilehdessä. Disability and Health Journal, 17(2024):1,101540.

Kim. L. E. & Asbury, K.  (2020). ‘Like a rug had been pulled from under you’: The impact of COVID-19 on teachers in England during the first six weeks of the UK lockdown. Educational Psychology. Vol 90: 4, December 2020, pp.  1062-1083

Kiviruusu O, Haravuori H, Lindgren M, Therman S, Marttunen M, Suvisaari J, Aalto-Setälä T: Generalized anxiety among Finnish youth from 2013 to 2021—Trend and the impact of COVID-19Linkki toiselle sivustolleAvautuu uudessa välilehdessä. Journal of Affective Disorders 330(2023),267-274.

Metsämuuronen, J. & Seppälä, H. (2021). COVID-19-pandemia, osaamisvaje ja osaamisen eriytyminen. Policy Brief 1:2021. Karvi.

Metsämuuronen, J. & Nousiainen, S. (2021). Matematiikkaa COVID-19-pandemian varjossa. Mate- matiikan osaaminen 9. luokan lopussa keväällä 2021. Julkaisut 27:2021. Kansallinen koulu- tuksen arviointikeskus.

OAJ (2020) Opetus koronan aikaan – Tiivistelmä OAJ:n kyselyn tuloksista. https://www.slideshare.net/oajry/opetus-koronan-aikaantiivistelm-oajn-kyselyn-tuloksista-232473138

Panula, V., Kiuru, N., Pöysä, S., Junttila, N., Sorkkila, M., Lerkkanen, M.-K., & Pakarinen, E. (2023). Hiljaisia ääniä : nuorten kokemuksia koronapandemian vaikutuksesta hyvinvointiin, sosiaalisiin suhteisiin ja oppimiseen. Opetushallitus. Raportit ja selvitykset, 2023:2.

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Schleicher, A. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on Education. Insights from Education at a Glance 2020. OECD. https://www.oecd.org/education/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-education-in- sights-education-at-a-glance-2020.pdf

Salmela-Aro, K., Upadyaya, K., & Hietajärvi, L. (2020). Suomalaisten rehtorien ja opettajien työhyvinvointiprofiilit koronakeväänä. Psykologia, 55(6), 426–443.

UTA. 2022. Työhyvinvoinnin johtamisen haasteet opetusalalla korona-aikana Peruskoulun opettajien kokemuksia pandemia-ajan työskentelystä. Vastuullisen liiketoiminnan tutkimuspäivät 17.3.2022. Laura Bordi & Al, esitys.

Olli Oosi

Olli on Owal Groupin co-founder ja senior partner. puh. 0505304737 olli@owalgroup.com

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