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This week on School Stream, we are tackling a big, somewhat fraught, topic. COVID-19 has thrown all our lives into chaos this year, but the impact has really been felt by schools and students. But for the 200,000 or so Year 12 students completing their final year, the requirements of social distancing present significant and unique issues. We are going to take a look at how the break in face-to-face learning may have impacted final year students from both an academic and social perspective. 

We value schools and we’re here to support you. Read on for our overview of the impacts felt by Year 12 students during the past months or watch a short clip of how School Stream can reduce your workload and keep your community connected. 

We’ve heard the expression “We’re all in it together” many times over the past few months. But the reality is that some students will have done it really tough and will be affected more than others by these past weeks of at-home learning.

Overview: Impact on Australian Students

A series of reports commissioned by the Federal Education Department found that “up to 46% of Australian young people are at risk of adverse effects on their educational outcomes… with numeracy most affected”. There are so many complexities that come into focus when 90% of the student population can no longer physically attend a school to learn. Some students are couch-surfing or their home may be unsafe for them, some students will never reengage with schooling, others will have had to take up care duties of younger siblings and some will even become the main family breadwinner courtesy of their part-time job if parents have been made redundant. Then there is the infamous digital divide, or ‘chasm’, as it is often described. More than 2.5 million Australians aren’t online and an even larger group don’t have the digital skills to interact effectively online, with the issue being particularly acute in regional areas

The Pressure of Year 12 

For Year 12 students, the implications of this disruption to their final year are different. Year 12 is already a notoriously stressful time for students, and the impacts of COVID-19 have added another layer of complexity and uncertainty on top of what is already an anxious time for many. There are concerns that this perfect storm of the high stakes pressure of Year 12 coupled with the chaos of COVID-19 will prevent students from performing at their best, with students from already disadvantaged groups particularly affected. 

COVID-19 and the ATAR

For students planning to head to the university to pursue further study, there is concern among principals and teaching staff that there will be some disparities between the final results for public and private students. And these concerns are backed up by a UNICEF study of more than 1000 students, with two-thirds concerned about their education being held-back.

With the ATAR comprising the metric by which universities offer a place to students, no wonder there are concerns about equity, although there are plenty of ideas about how the playing field might be adjusted, if not levelled completely

Blaise Joseph, a former teacher and Education Research Fellow from the Centre for Independent Studies spoke to the different approaches between private and public schools in an interview with SBS 

“Face-to-face teaching is the most effective way of absorbing new content and given that many students in government schools are being denied that at the moment, while some students in private schools for example, are still receiving it, that does definitely indicate that there will be a growing inequity as a result… We can hope that universities will take [that] into account in the coming years”

For all students, whether they are educated in private or public schools, it goes without saying that Year 12 students who have access to high-speed internet and devices are at an advantage. As are students who have the space to study, whose parents can support them in their learning and who can access tutoring if they need to catch up later in the year. 

The Makers & The Doers

For Year 12 students who are studying subjects in visual arts, textiles, language, food technology, trade and design and technology or one of the many other subjects that requires completing a major work for assessment, the issues around not being able to access school on-site are different, but no less impactful. At this stage of the school year, most students will only have had their knowledge components assessed, and they are working towards and reliant on the final score of their major project. These students may too, be at a disadvantage as they have a greater affinity with making and doing, rather than traditional academic study.

Remember When Friends Were Everything?

And then there’s the social side. Think back to your school days. What is it you remember from your final years of school? Chances are it isn’t the course work that stands out. Your memories are mostly likely to be of your friends and classmates. Friendship is such an important part of adolescence and for many teenagers, being separated from their friends is viewed as another injustice that makes the interruption to school even harder. For teenagers completing their final year of schooling, there is a strong emotional attachment to the school itself as well as the people. Every day is a chance to make memories with the people you have spent the last seven years with. The camaraderie of late nights, cramming and the feeling that this is the last year you will be spending time with these people is bittersweet. Then there is the school formal and graduation to look forward to and, in 2020, it looks highly likely both of these milestone events will be cancelled. 

It’s Been Difficult For Everyone

All that being said, there is no doubt schools and teachers have gone above and beyond to support their students in extremely difficult and trying circumstances. As it turns out, we are all back to face-to-face teaching far earlier than we anticipated at the peak of COVID-19. We wish all students and teachers the very best for the remainder of 2020.