What 2020 taught us

Issue: Volume 99, Number 20

Posted: 3 December 2020
Reference #: 1HAFDT

Student perspectives on life and learning during Covid-19

‘Beyond Covid’ video series

The Education Gazette caught up with Ministerial Youth Advisory Group members Raiyan Azmi and Tara Shepherd to hear about their experiences of life and learning during Covid-19, and their aspirations for next year. Watch the video on the Education Gazette’s YouTube channel: youtube.com/edgazettenewzealand(external link).

Also from the Education Gazette’s ‘Beyond Covid’ video series:

Finding my way out of Covid-19

Year 12 student at Marist College in Auckland, Petra Po’uhila, gives an insight into how Covid-19 has affected her this year.

We were the first Covid-19 school lockdown. We hit the media like white on rice. No warnings, no heads up, we were told to go home and stay home. My room became my shell, talking to my Mum through closed doors, meals on my own, Netflix parties in my room, TikToks with the mirror and groups chats with friends. It was fun at first, isolation didn’t seem so bad, no chores, sleep in every day and literally watched the world go by.

But the creep was gradual, like when you are standing in the shallow end of the pool and walk towards the deep end, you know it’s getting deeper and you keep walking knowing that sooner or later your feet won’t touch the bottom. If you’re a good swimmer, it’s not so scary… but if you’re not, the panic sets in.

2020 was the year where everything was possible. It was my year, full of potential, senior things to do and prove, me and my friends planning many firsts – first senior ball, first school trip to Samoa, cultural leaders, our netball team, we had finally graduated into the senior world. We were excited, pumped and couldn’t wait to make our mark.

But the creep now overwhelmed me. School became an option. Zooming was a new phenomenon, Google Classroom was the norm and then the excuses became verbal diarrhoea – sorry Miss, my mic’s broken; sorry Miss, my camera isn’t working; sorry Miss, I can’t hear you; sorry Miss, my wi-fi is playing up… ‘sorry Miss’ became regular and wagging school in this virtual world was easy, tolerated and there were no consequences – or so I thought.

Second lockdown was like prison; it was lonely, choking me, trapping me. I’m behind now. I can’t catch up. I can’t keep up… so I gave up. After two lockdowns and all the sleep I had, I felt more tired, more sleepy; the more work I needed to do, the more I retreated into my bed, into my cell.

I missed normal. I missed hugs and kisses and holding hands. I missed catching the train. I missed massive hugs at the school gate. I missed tutor group. I missed loud laughter. I missed my teachers… even the ones I thought I didn’t like. I miss Tonga because my Nena is there and I miss my Nan, she is my comfort. I miss looking forward to Christmas and the family that converge at our house… that’s not happening this year. I miss my Dad and my brother and cry at all our cancelled plans… I have not hugged them since January…
I miss them… I’m not myself without them. I miss our normal, boring regular life.

And so what have I learned this year? I read something on social media that kinda sums it up: “I thought 2020 was going to be the year where I would get everything I wanted, instead it was the year I learned to appreciate everything I have.” (note.com)

I know other students and families have it harder than I do. I know the struggle is real. I know what is happening around me, my friends, my family and my community.

I know this year is painful, I know people are scared and the future unknown and I also know my life could be harder, but it is not. I know that when my feet couldn’t touch the bottom, my family and my faith carried me and kept me afloat, teachers came to my rescue, texting me, checking in on me, giving me options, sending out search parties, kept me on track and didn’t let me go… even when I gave up, they didn’t.

I know me and my friends looked to each other every day for safety. We held each other despite the distance and saved each other from the deep end of Covid-19.

2020 has turned out to be that year none of us expected. That year where we have all been tested and as I write this, I continue to be grateful for what I have. Thank you to my God, family, friends and teachers for walking gently with me and never giving up on me. I am finding my way out, paddling slowly but surely because YOU were there lighting the path.

My lesson learnt… PEOPLE and relationships, human connection, touch, hugs, tears and laughter makes a difference whatever the crisis, however dark – and in these unprecedented times, it is people, family, friends, teachers and strangers being kind, being human, showing up and turning up. Bring on 2021!

Finding clarity and balance during lockdown

Pāpāmoa College Year 13 student and head girl Grace Green reflects on the year that delivered challenges and opportunities for personal growth.

I doubt you would be able to find a teacher, parent or student who breezed through online learning. School in itself is stressful but trying to conquer dodgy wi-fi, hundreds of Google Classroom alerts and losing track of what day, week or month it is, is a whole other story.

Year 13 is the year we all look forward too – finally we’re the big fish in a little pond! But this year has been pretty much as far from any of our fantasies as possible; a killer virus is literally the stuff of movies. Yet however many twists and turns 2020 took, you cannot deny the immense quantity (and quality) of life lessons we all learnt.

My graduating class has had such a unique opportunity to understand ourselves, our learning needs and our values within life – all before leaving high school. I’m hoping that these learnings will give us a head start into the futures we have all been so worried about Covid-19 jeopardising. 

Finding a balance

Working from home made me realise that in order to achieve academically I need to have a balance. I was so determined to keep on top of my schoolwork that I let everything else go.

I prioritised my academics and leadership position over my friendships, family, dance and fitness. Academically I was thriving, but as an entire person I was starting to fall apart.

It was a few weeks into our lockdown before I realised how important downtime is to learning – putting everything and anything into your school work doesn’t mean you’re going to do well or have the validation you need within your life. Happiness cannot be achieved by good grades alone; there needs to be a balance of time spent with loved ones, and a focus on wellbeing – physical, mental and emotional.

I’m thankful that I was able to have this realisation before I totally fell apart or was out in the real world. The nature of our education system forces us to take time out from schoolwork through extracurriculars, community service and even simply lunchtime. By inherently protecting us from the threat of burnout, our system also keeps us sheltered. 

Learning needs and lockdown

Working from home also taught (or rather forced) me to accommodate my learning needs in new ways. I have several learning disabilities, which gives me access to Special Assessment Conditions. I went into lockdown with the perception that working from home would remove many of the barriers I face daily and was unpleasantly surprised to find that it also removed many of the coping mechanisms I’ve been refining since pre-primary.

I had to get creative. Lockdown wasn’t going anywhere but with my disabilities and no management plan, neither was I. Throughout lockdown I began to utilise technology in ways that I never felt I was ‘allowed’ to. I used close captions in my Google Meet classes. I used talk-to-text for essay writing, drafting and planning and I tried every font until I found the 'perfect' one. As I became more confident in my use of these tools, I became more confident in my abilities.

Coming back into ‘normal’ classes, I still use what I learnt in lockdown to support myself and my learning needs; lockdown forced me to broaden my disabilities toolbox. I now have the skills to work collaboratively and independently, all while making accommodations for my disabilities. 

Lessons learned at home

For the last 13 years of my life, my education has been carried out in the same environment: hundreds of students, obtrusive noises, intrusive colours and the ever-present and overwhelming smell of Lynx body spray. With time we have all become very accustomed to working in such chaos. The abrupt transition to quiet and calm home offices threw many of us off – even those of us who thought we would be more productive at home.

The honest truth is that some of us thrived in these new environments while others fell desperately far behind. As students we were presented with new challenges. We were forced to understand what helps us learn best – is it watching videos? Class discussions? Research? From here we had to use what we learnt to help ourselves. When we aren’t all in the same room, we can’t rely on our teachers to take us through everything step by step.

Although it was brutal, being forced out of the nest gave us the skills for self-empowerment within our learning. We had to actively engage in assignments, clearly ask for assistance when it was needed and most importantly, we learnt how our futures need to look in order for us to thrive.

For me, I learnt that I work best alone, but also that before any independent work can be done, I need several thought-provoking conversations with my peers – I need inspiration and validation from others before I have the ability to proceed solo. Now knowing this, I am able to make my future study plans as specific to my needs as possible; I know, going into uni, that discussion groups and homework clubs will be of major assistance to the quality of my work. 

Taking time to reflect

I once heard someone refer to the pandemic as a corona-coaster. If you can overlook the somewhat wretched pun, it becomes a great way of describing the emotional turmoil experienced nationwide. We were all scared, hopeful, bored, calm, frantic and isolated all at the same time.

My normal life is so filled with academics, ballet, friends and work that I don’t have the time to slow down and contemplate my true emotions. In lockdown I was able to find the time to step back and accurately identify how I was feeling, but even more importantly, what was fuelling these feelings.

Every day I sat down and asked myself what I value in life; ultimately, I had stripped it back to the simple things. I value laughter and the hubbub that large groups of people create. I value literature and the lessons it teaches us, just as I value passion and determination. When I’m surrounded by these my soul is nourished; through understanding this I am able to create career pathways that incorporate these values.

Many of my peers also found this clarity in lockdown. When all the outside noise of the world was taken away, we were finally able to listen to our inner voices; they told us what we need in order to succeed and feel free. I truly believe that my graduating class knows ourselves and our deepest desires better than any other cohorts – and I believe that because of this we will all be guided towards career pathways that nourish our souls with all the nutrients it could possibly need. 

Respecting different experiences

For me, lockdown fostered an immense amount of personal growth – however, through writing this piece I have been reminded of how truly privileged I have been with my experiences through Covid.

Some of my peers had to work six-day weeks to support their families. Some had to babysit their siblings all day every day. Some had unsafe or unpleasant living situations. Our international students went through the pandemic without their families. Some students lost thousands of dollars’ worth of deposits overseas.

It's important to respect and acknowledge that each person had a different lockdown experience; compassion and leeway from both peers and teachers has become not just important but necessary in order for students to continue their education.

I am thankful that throughout Covid-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4 my house was filled with learning, love and laughter. My heart truly goes out to those who had to choose between putting food or schoolwork on the table.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:53 am, 3 December 2020

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