The challenges faced by the Class of Covid-19

#iwill Ambassador Iqra, 21, speaks to other young people about the support they have received – or not – from their schools since lockdown started.

In anticipation of a UK-wide lockdown, schools, colleges, and universities transformed the way lessons are conducted overnight. Email inboxes and parents’ phones were bombarded with plans to implement remote lessons. For many, exams were cancelled until further notice. Others continued revising in the midst of a pandemic.

Perhaps due to the speed of change within the pandemic, as these decisions were made few institutions consulted their students.

I (virtually!) sat down with the other #iwill Ambassadors to discuss how these changes have impacted students.

What changes have been implemented in the education system?

The changes resulting from COVID 19 differ depending on one’s stage of education. This year’s A-Level and GCSE students have seen all exams and lessons cancelled. Instead, teachers have predicted student’s final grades, but even these have then been adjusted based on a school’s historic performance. Meanwhile, for University students assessments have been made remote (and a handful of universities have made these optional). Although schools are gradually being opened, plans to ensure all primary pupils in England are back before the end of term have been dropped.

Whilst some institutions have factored in the pandemic when awarding grades, others have been less understanding. For example, for #iwill Ambassador Amelia, she feels that her university final year marks won’t reflect the pandemic’s “weird and challenging” circumstances.

What has the impact of this been on students?

At all stages of academic life, students are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their future. In turn, this has significantly impacted student wellbeing. In a recent NUS survey, only 14% of University students in the UK said they were happy with their lives compared to 18% in 2019.

‘It is certainly very difficult on a mental health level to adjust to these differences” said Jo, an #iwill Ambassador and first year student at the University of Oxford. 

For A-Level and GCSE students, there has been heightened concern about unfair predicted grades. “I think that in my year a lot of the pupils are concerned about teachers using their mock results to come up with a grade” stated Athika, an A-level student and #iwill Ambassador. In Athika’s year, many teachers are utilising results from practise (‘mock’) exams to predict grades. However, as many students don’t try their best in their mocks, she feels “They’d be at a disadvantage”.

Similarly, #iwill Ambassador Atti, 18, stated that many pupils who felt limited by expectations made of them saw exams as an opportunity “To prove to themselves and their teachers that they could do so much better than their predicted grades”. However, the cancellation of exams has stripped them of this opportunity.

How can we overcome this?

Lockdown is an inevitable and understandable course of action during this pandemic. Several ambassadors commended teachers’ ability to adapt to the circumstances and their commitment to students. #iwill Ambassador, Claire, 16, says ‘I’m very blessed to be a part of a high-school that has a strong sense of community’. Claire’s teachers, for example, provided students with ways to contact the school whilst in lockdown.

However, the impact of this crisis on students is undeniable. I feel that it is imperative that institutions act to prevent further damage to students. The leaders of institutions need to acknowledge the demands of those who are central to maintaining their institutions during a pandemic: their students.

For example, NUS recently began a campaign to have students tuition fees partially or entirely reimbursed. Similarly, ‘MEND’ (Muslim Engagement and Development) initiated a campaign to ensure fair predicted grades for BAME A-Level and GCSE students. These campaigns should be heard, and the actions seriously considered by both government and institutions.

In summary, students have seen drastic changes to their education during this pandemic. Naturally, this has caused widespread distress amongst young people. Although several organisations have spoken up about this, it’s imperative that government leaders and educational institutions are willing to listen.

In the coming weeks students will be receiving results and preparing for the next academic year. These pivotal events are opportunities for institutions to listen to young people’s experiences. As a society, if we want young people to feel powerful enough to create change- we need to engage with young people during this difficult time.