Students are faced with unprecedented difficulties. Here is what the government can do to help

Baptiste Poupart-Lafarge

Education Analyst

Students are faced with unprecedented difficulties. And here is what the government can do to help.

The Covid-19 has proved to be one of the most challenging crises of recent world history, causing the death of nearly 2,5 million people according to the WHO on the 22nd February 2021. However, the set up of restrictions to tackle the pandemic did not remain without consequences in many areas of public life. One that has been particularly impacted is the educational sphere, where students that would usually have had lessons together in close spaces, and meet one another between classes, have been sent home to study online.

Distance learning courses caused two-stage damages. The first affected were the underprivileged social classes, and gradually the mental health of young people became a real concern.

Access to digital resources is limited for many families, about 30 to 40% do not have optimal access to materials. Moreover, teacher support has been easily replaced by parents who have the capacity to do so, while others have sometimes found themselves alone in the face of mounting difficulties.

Some never even met other classmates because of online teaching and don’t have a feeling to be part of university… Some still do not realize that they miss going to class!On the other hand, a minority of students found themselves at an advantage in this situation, saving time, being able to shape their timetable, and even some students describe having had an extra motivation to participate in lessons given the virtual absence of the other students’ gaze.

Despite the efforts of most teachers and governments, there are increasing warnings, especially seen on social networks.

Students describe dramatic situations, feeling that their life lost its meaning. The routine is hellish, interactions become exclusively digital. Temptations become the common enemy. Bad news accumulates at Twitter speed and lack of motivation seems to be the second virus. This lockdown has therefore not only revealed inequalities but has also amplified them.

The current solutions implemented by the governments are long and inconclusive. Some teachers stand out for their devotion, while others drop out. The collective movement is struggling to remove its cloak of invisibility.There is an absolute necessity to provide integrality in lessons for students, some of whom could see their ambitions crumble in the absence of a teacher during this period. It is therefore important for the state to centralize education in order to provide a homogeneous education. This can be done in this way.

The first step is to digitize the programs, for example, to provide video clips available everywhere and for everyone and used by teachers. We can also involve psychologists in classes to give advice to students on how to take care of their mental health. It is also possible to imagine television channels broadcasting lessons by subject and level.

Teachers would therefore no longer have to give lessons, but only concentrate on accompanying students, explaining the content, and also improve their personalized follow-up for the students. The second step is obviously access to digital technology, it is necessary to open libraries, as well as workrooms for students having trouble with their IT equipment. It is also necessary to speed up the distribution of material, as well as computer training for students and teachers.

To the extent that many students struggle to pay their fees (rent, tuition fees, daily charges), It becomes complicated for students to invest in computer equipment. Thus, I propose that the local authorities provide computer grants for all families in difficulty. If the situation is experienced differently for each individual, the collective suffers, and the young people pay for it. Increasing school dropouts, rising depression, and extreme solitude, when are we going to help the students out of the nightmare in which they are locked up and don’t seem ready to come out?

European Affairs

The EU faces its current challenges: will its fragility precede a renewed vitality?

Petra Pakodzi

European Affairs Analyst

The EU faces its current challenges: will its fragility precede a renewed vitality?

Challenges from inner institutions, member states and external threats have always had an impactful role in the history of the European Union. Being aware of these current affairs is a key in becoming a responsible citizen.

Generally speaking as the coronavirus pandemic started in 2019, the EU had to share its attention towards equally important issues-facing economic, social hardship and the largest health crisis of the new century. The availability, amount, schedule of vaccination was the main question throughout 2020 which is trying to be resolved. What about this pandemic’s financial, mental and educational aspects? A crisis is in progress as people are losing their job, struggling with mental health, youngsters and students are missing their experiences from education. This mechanism has started to test the eurozone and its institutions, which system has been standing on weak legs since its formation because Europe has failed to address it.

Moreover, 2020 contained many more sensitive debates: the first country left the Union a Brexit deal had to be reached. This phenomenon illustrates the fragmentation of the strongest economic and social bond ever existed. Besides, two key countries of the union have tense uncertainty towards their future-Can Mario Draghi solve Italy’s crisis? Who is going to be the next leader of Germany?

Threats to democracy are coming from in- and outside of Europe.

For example, Russian influence could have been observed since the establishment of the Soviet Union. This still impacts countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary and Poland. Not just European values, but human rights and dignity are being threatened by populist leaders of member states. In the inner circle of the EU, Hungary and Poland have been implementing laws limiting LGBTQ+ people’s life, abortion concerns, free press and education. As this process is taking place in other leading countries-such as China-the EU has a major role in intervening and standing up for human rights. By the development of the information technology industry the risk comes from a new part of checks and balances-the medium and via this-the influence of Big Tech. As the process has already started in the US, the European Union is also starting to regulate the tech giants . Furthermore, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed the willingness of the EU to work strongly together with the new Biden administration, slightly articulating the new bond with the US, leaving aside the departing UK.

All these cases have to be dealt with sensitivity, by putting emphasis on the impacts on the climate. The EU can indicate its countries preferences by negotiating international treaties, funding projects and encouraging member states to a new green direction. As the European Green Deal is the first of its type people tend to be ambitious about its goals and significance. This aims to improve people’s quality of life by making the union a low carbon economy. Every aspect of the new world order has to be altered such as consumption, energy generation and transport. The target for the Union is to create a bloc of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Besides, the EU as a leading actor in the economy, has to promote green transition to other players of the international game.

In conclusion, with the beginning of the pandemic the EU started to face many more problems than before. Problems that were not resolved and which have to be shed light on to create a diverse, tight economic and social bond in Europe.

Business, Trade and Economics

The GameStop phenomenon taught us the Wall Street titans will almost always come out on top

Dinh Nguyen

Business, Trade and Economics Analyst

The GameStop phenomenon taught us the Wall Street titans will almost always come out on top

The Reddit versus Wallstreet drama that drove GameStop prices to inconceivable heights last month might first seem like a modern-day David and Goliath story where the little guys gave Wall Street a run for their money, but ultimately just proved how large hedge funds will seem to win every single time.F or those unacquainted, GameStop, a brick-and-mortar videogame retail chain that saw its finances dwindle both due to game producers releasing products digitally as well as the impacts of COVID-19 on its stores became the number one target for hedge fund short sellers. Short selling is essentially betting on a company to fail, borrowing the company’s stocks from a broker to sell it, then re-buying once the price had crashed to return and make a profit. The Redditors from a popular financial subreddit, r/wallstreetbets, got wind of this, and decided en masse to all buy GameStop shares in what could only be described as a nihilistically induced frenzy — or as they call it- YOLOing. Reddit plan worked; GME rose from under $40/share to shy of $350/share within a week, causing huge losses to those who were shorting the stocks.

Melvin Capital, the main short seller in the saga and the Public Enemy Number One under the eyes of Redditors came out of the race with huge losses. The hedge fund entered 2021 with $12.5 billion in managed assets but ended up with only $8 billion at the end of January, even with a massive $2.75 billion injection from other hedge funds. Melvin capital ended up losing 53% of its asset when closing its positions on GameStop on January 27th. Some Redditors, consequently, benefitted and was able to afford their pet’s healthcare or even paid off the entirety of their student loan. Redditor Keith Gills became a multi-millionaire after seeing his $50 000 in GME stock turn into over $44 million at its height.

However, Robinhood and similar stock brokers restricted trading on GameStop stocks and caused its price to fall rapidly.

The hugely unpopular move to restrict trade was explained away by Robinhood’s managements as simply to help keep the company’s finances under control, but with having Citadel, a large hedge funds whose billions helped to bail Melvin Capital out earlier in the week, as one of their main business partners, the move couldn’t help but be seen as blatant collusion between hedge funds and brokers. The restrictions, while landing Robinhood in hot water between a class-action lawsuit and a congressional hearing, also managed to prevent the public from buying GME and drive up the price. What started as a revolt against the financial institutions of Wall Street turned into just another opportunity for massive hedge funds to cash out. Everyone knows the exorbitant price of GameStop is unsustainable, a failing company’s stock cannot be worth $350/share. The winner of the GameStop buying frenzy is neither the Redditors nor Melvin Capital, but the various hedge funds that take short positions when GME was at its highest on January 27th. GME fell 86.4% from $347.51 down to $53.50 in a week and with buying restrictions from brokers like Robinhood, prices seem unlikely to go up. This was a massive loss to the personal finances of thousands of Redditors who invested in the stock, all the while being a golden opportunity for hedge funds’ short-sellers.

What the GameStop phenomenon taught us was the Wall Street titans, with their colossal capitals, access to information and research groups as well as deep ties with both politicians and private companies, will almost always come out on top and maintain the status quo. Robinhood restricting trades and Discord’s r/wallstreetbets server ban demonstrates the extent of the financial institutions’ power. Regular people, with limited buying capacity, could only go along for the ride and hope to turn a small profit. This is not to say, however, that the people, don’t hold any tangible power. The mass buying of GME by Redditors still strike a blow into the pocket of Melvin Capitals, and from now on, hedge funds would have to think twice before taking a short position again.

Defence and International Security

Operation Barkhane in the Sahel should focus on peace and stability despite limitations

Allan Ohene MA fCMgr

Director of the Defence and International Security Research Department

Alexandre Dupont-Sinhsattanak

Defence and International Security Analyst

Operation Barkhane in the Sahel should focus on peace and stability despite limitations

A French led multinational intervention within the Sahel, a vast desert area in northern Africa, was launched in 2013 as a result of Islamic militant activity which likely posed a greater threat to the political stability of the region and possibly the West. A first operation, named Serval, succeeded in driving back the Jihadists within a month. In August 2014, a new operation, codenamed Operation Barkhane and based in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, was set as a counterterrorist military operation which sought to target Islamic extremists in Mali, Chad and Niger. The stability of this region was seen to be essential to the peace and security needs of France and its allies in Europe and America. The UN and the EU deployed peacekeeping and training missions, MINUSMA, EUTM Mali and EUCAT Sahel Mali. Most of these Sahel States were once colonized by France and this drive to achieve political stability was seen to be crucial for the continuity of the alliance between France and its former colonies. It was essentially in the interest of the French to take an active lead on this intervention.

In military terms, the French intervention has been highly successful in pushing back these Islamic militant activities to a larger extent, but more areas are still being infiltrated by different groups. Over 100 jihadists have been killed in a close collaboration between French and Malian forces in the month of January 2021 and more progress continues to be made despite the lack of infrastructure and the climate conditions in the Sahel. France and its European allies have strategically utilized this mission to afford regional groups such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adequate training and support to ensure a standby security readiness. The formation of the G5 Sahel coalition is also a step toward collective security in the region, with the participation of Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad.

The success of this intervention should not be criticised on a large scale but needs to be seen as an effort to rid the Sahel of extremists who take advantage of the poor socio-economic background of these deprived communities around the region. Arguments have remained that it contributes to instability within the Sahel as a result of the French governments support to repressive governments.

The government of Mali has been quite unresponsive to the terror threat due to inadequate financial commitments and lack of resources to regions badly suppressed by the jihadist groups.

The French mission has also been compared to the forever wars of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight with support from America seen not to be particularly strong due to other threats to its own interests from China and Russia. Logistics and skills required may be found lacking within African States to confront this threat, but it is vital for the full cooperation of France and its major partners within the region: namely ECOWAS, G5 Sahel and African Union (AU). French self-interests and legitimacy within the Sahel region have been called into question as a result of the multitude of companies benefiting from its rich resources. Large swathes of recent protests in capitals such as Bamako, Mali, have also led to anti-French sentiments which in turn led the French President, Macron, to demand assurances from some heads of state at a G5 Sahel Summit organized in Pau, south-west of France, in January 2020 in which his tone of ‘summons’ was also criticized by some leaders. It was merely seen as an autocratic gesture. The leadership of these G5 countries have all voiced strong support for the French intervention in order to sustain peace and stability within the region despite the anti-French sentiments felt across their borders. More and more local people embrace an anti-colonial stance, accompanied by some criticisms in France. In fact, the death tolls of French soldiers (55 casualties since 2013) have a negative impact on the public opinion, while the cost of the operation (1 billion euros per year) participates to overstretch the French military. The current operation has limited tactical successes, with few military gains. Some point out to the inefficient use of the military force, due to the asymmetrical nature of the conflict.

Operation Barkhane has a long way to go in terms of its military mission of restoring peace and security in the Sahel against these jihadist groups. It should be given the full political support of all parties concerned to ensure the collective security of the Sahel and wider world in general is not at further risk of violence caused by extremist groups. France and its allies have seen its fair share of terrorism imported from these jihadists groups and the purpose of this mission must be seen to be critical for the pursuance of democracy in the region deeply underpinned by peace and stability. Socio-economic development for these affected states will ultimately thrive on the success of Operation Barkhane should this be given the unconditional legitimacy it fully deserves.

Global Political Economy and Governance

Narva, a city emerging from its identity crisis?

Maksim Vassin

Global Political Economy and International Governance Analyst

Narva, a city emerging from its identity crisis?

Perhaps nowhere in the world, it is possible to find two opposing fortresses merely a stone-throw away from each other, other than in Narva, Estonia and Ivangorod, Russia. Separated geographically by the river, they share common history and culture — Ivangorod used to be a suburb of much richer and larger Narva; Narva itself is ethnically almost fully Russian, despite being an Estonian city.

The history of Narva — my hometown — has always been connected to the situation across the border and the relationship between Estonia and its giant neighbour to the East — and these relations have rarely been particularly easy. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated in early 2013-late 2014, with the development of the Ukrainian crisis and Russian occupation of Crimea. Many foreign policy journalists and experts started looking for another potential conflict hotspot. “Is Narva next?” was the question for many.

And it is not hard to see why. Narva is essentially a Russian enclave in Estonia — only 1,8% of the population are native Estonian speakers; less than a half of the population (48,5%) are Estonian citizens, compared to 36% of Russian citizens and 13,6% stateless persons (Source: Narva City Council). It has not always been this way, after all, before the Second World War, Narva was a majority Estonian town. However, the new Soviet occupation authority banned previous residents from returning to the city, razed it to the ground, and re-populated it with the migrant workforce from other parts of the Union to transform Narva from once one of the most beautiful cities of Northern Europe to the ultimate Soviet industrial powerhouse.

Fast-forward fifty years, many of the relocated workforce found themselves in a newly independent country, without any sense of attachment to it, knowledge of the language nor culture. Drug and crime problems plagued the city, and ethnic divisions were acutely felt. With the deterioration of relations in 2013–2014, many locals feared a conflict might ensue. This triggered an identity crisis for those living in Narva, including myself — since we speak Russian, are we a part of the Russian cultural space? Or are we politically and economically Estonian? This identity crisis manifests itself even now, with the recent political turmoil in Russia and the division between Putin and Navalny supporters. Many fear that sanctions imposed by the EU would harm the relations between Estonia and Russia even more, creating numerous problems for the city, in turn. While the initial forecast was that the quickly deteriorating relationship between Estonia and Russia in 2014 will harm Narva’s growth (decline in exports and transit through the border), it provided an opposite result and initiated a period of growth for the city.

Before 2014, the government presence in the city was not felt, which proved a breeding ground for such an identity crisis. The city was encapsulated, culturally and linguistically detached from the rest of the country. Narva was seen as a city of decay and crisis, however, owing to the events in Crimea, the narrative towards Narva started to change.

With the support of the government, Narva became a cultural hotspot of the country and a major tourist destination. Overnight, abandoned factories became trendy festival venues, attracting tens of thousands of visitors a year. Besides the immediate economic impact of revitalised tourist streams, citizens of Narva finally had a chance to feel truly connected to Estonian culture and media space — Estonian language could be heard on the streets, the media stopped depicting the city as a crime capital, and the government turned its attention to the city. Even the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, relocated her offices to Narva for a total period of two months in August-November 2018.

At a reception in Narva City Hall, Kersti Kaljulaid announced that the city will compete for the European Capital of Culture in 2024.

However, her most important visit happened at the beginning of 2018 when she travelled to Narva to make the announcement that almost all Narva citizens met with disbelief, surprise and some, even, shock. This was an incredibly bold move. While the city had already started attracting a considerable degree of national attention by the time of the announcement, no one considered it to be a capital of culture, more so, a European Capital of Culture.

The whole candidacy of Narva revolved around its strategic location on the border between the East and the West. When the jury members came to tour Narva, they saw a unique performance. Two choirs stood opposite each other — one in Narva, the other in Ivangorod. Their song could be heard across the river, across the civilisational, geographical, political border. The motto of the candidacy was “Narva is next”, utilising the question raised by journalists in 2014, yet this time giving it a more positive connotation.Tense relations between two countries do not always have to negatively affect the people living on the border between those two countries. For Narva, this proved to be a major success and a turning point in history. While many believed that the downturn in relations between Estonia and Russia would constitute the economic downfall of the city, Narva managed to correctly use its strategic position and international narrative to attract attention, tourists, culture, and boost its economy.