The very idea of enforced confinement is appalling and yet the epidemic of Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus has done just that! The suddenness of lockdown was very hard to adjust to, but we are all in the same boat, waiting and watching developments, speculating on what happens next and on how Covid-19 is changing our way of life.
Similarly, my grandchildren over Year 11, have been giving much thought and speculation to their present reality, comparing it to a very recent past and an unknown future.
Louis is almost 17, he’s a Year 12 student at St John’s College; he’s always very busy, conscientious and eager to find his independence. He has taken full advantage of the many opportunities that have come his way through school, drama and youth leadership programmes; especially satisfying since he passed his restricted driving license and can now drive himself.
When the National Youth Drama School was cancelled, along with everything else he was intending to pack into his year, he was angry and frustrated, his expectations all dashed. “Why does this epidemic have to happen in my 17th year?” he asks through gritted teeth. “I felt this was going to be my best ever year. Basically, 2020 has been cancelled!” It took him two weeks to grudgingly come to terms with these realities, storming around home fuming over his enforced confinement, a self confessed “grumpy bugger”.
His cousin, Alice turned 16 in February. She’s in Year 12 at Havelock North High School and was very excited at the announcement of the Level 4 lockdown, cheering loudly with her friends at the thought of having an extended break from school. She spent the first week in her bedroom, chilling out and enjoying her electronic devices, having a good rest and snap-chatting her friends. She too had her NYDS programme for Circus performance cancelled, but was more disappointed over the loss of her hockey season.
She emerged a week later looking happy but wondering what her girlfriends were doing and missing their company. Her older sister Ella was now returned from university in Wellington and with their teacher mum Sophie they were all ok with each other’s company at home.
By contrast, Louis was not so happy to be locked down with his younger brothers and Mum and Dad, who like him, were all working from home. He missed daily school life, his mates and girlfriend and resented parental expectations that he join them in walking and bicycling around their neighbourhood in Havelock North. This guy is a keen mountain biker!
Alice’s sister, Ella is 19 (soon to turn 20) and she is in her second year of study at the Law School at Victoria. She felt gutted that the flat – this symbol of adulthood and independence – had to be locked up when she and her flatmates returned to their parents’ homes the day before Covid-19 Lockdown began. The five girls had met during Year 1 whilst in halls of residence, drawn together by a similar energy, shared values and interests, so that as flat mates they were developing deep and joyful friendships – ‘friends for life’.
For 2-3 weeks at the University, the lecturers had been outlining the precautions students and the Uni would/could take if Covid became a crisis. So she knew it was coming, ‘but not yet, probably in weeks/months’, and their disappointment was acute when on the Saturday March 21 the Level system was announced. Decisions were made quickly and they left Wellington for home one day before Lockdown.
Evidently, teachers and schools are using a variety of methods to impart information to students. Some schools are doing only mornings, others teaching three days leaving time for study. HNHS class periods of 1 hour begin at 9am with 15 minutes of teaching (teacher speaking) and 45 minutes to work through the information and examples, students may ask questions online and frequently discuss the lesson content with mates on their phones.
Alice adapted quickly to this new regime and the uninterrupted focus on learning, relishing the feeling of trust that learning on-line provides and the independence to work at her own pace. “I love learning especially when I get into the flow and momentum isn’t disrupted by other students,” highlighting classroom management as a time-consuming and irritating distraction.
She feels she has a great rapport with her teachers. “For me and my friends it feels like we’re discovering things; we’re curious and we grow from that,” she says. “I don’t like going to physical school much, but do I miss not being able to clarify things with face-to-face teaching, especially maths and chemistry.” While she misses the lack of social contact, on-line school provides her a greater level of control over her learning and managing her work regime.
She describes the school system as being a ‘like a factory’. “You get to school, have six hours of information, 25 kids of different abilities who have to be ‘managed’ and you have little control in the way you absorb the content before the period ends and it’s onto the next subject.”
“I learn better in a classroom where the teacher explains things and discussions follow and questions are answered,” says Louis. At St John’s there wasn’t a general online platform in place prior to Lockdown so while his teachers adjust to totally online teaching he is receiving up to 10 emails per day, info on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or One Note. “It would be better if it came in on one platform – and I hope that happens as we adjust to the new system. But I have missed some classes because I found an email too late,” he says.
While Ella is happy enough at home, she is ‘so sad’ that her plans were disrupted. “I was feeling that now I had the opportunity to do what I really wanted – choosing who I spend my time with and pursuing deepening friendships,” discovering new people by meeting the friends of her flat mates, people who have similar energy and values to herself.
She was impressed with Victoria University Law School’s preparation to online study, given the tradition of students attending lectures in person. “Tuition is by the Socratic method of questioning; face-to-face, verbal, reasoning and thinking on your feet – a preparation for the courtroom,” Ella says. “Online study is not nearly as compelling as the tutorials and lecture rooms,” but she feels confident that her education and future career will not be compromised by the Covid-19 restrictions.
What can schools learn from Covid-19?
By exploring their reactions to the changes wrought by Covid-19, Ella, Louis and Alice have identified quite a bit about their individual learning styles. They really enjoyed sifting through their experiences and making discoveries about themselves and what makes them tick. It was a great privilege to listen to their thoughts and I believe every student would benefit from such a debriefing as they rationalize their responses to the radical changes to their lives.
Schools, please take note, this is an opportunity! Students like these are your consumers. Survey them, give them a chance to really understand their own responses to this extraordinary period and then listen to them while student and teacher discovers learning needs that can be taken into account in the delivery of education, whether it be online or by introducing new tools in the classroom. Covid-19 is a catalyst to positive change in all areas, especially for the young.
Ella at work in the garden.
Home school for Louis and Jeremy.
Alice doing her morning classes.