Big challenges for this year’s VCE cohort

Liz Bell

FOR VCE student Corey Jacobs, studying from home hasn’t induced the mental anguish and anxiety that it has for many students.

But he has seen it all around him, as some of his peers lose focus without face-to-face teaching, and others have had the added pressure of juggling study with caring for younger siblings, or trying to adapt to remote learning with limited internet access.

Like thousands of VCE students around the state, Corey and his friends from Sale College welcomed the state government’s announcement last week that every VCE student will be individually assessed as part of their final year exams because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption to the school year, including remote learning and reduced access to teachers.

While regional students have always had a special consideration card up their sleeves, this announcement re-frames the process and makes student disadvantage a little clearer.

Teachers will be asked where they ranked students, and where would they have ranked them if it wasn’t for COVID-19, and why.

In addition, the government has provided an additional $28.5 million boost to mental health support services targeted to struggling students.

While Corey says he has received fantastic support from his teachers and doesn’t feel he has missed any important learning, school closures and the uncertainties surrounding expectations, exams and unit requirements had undoubtedly heightened the sense of panic for many.

“It’s the unknown that can be stressful for students, just not knowing what was going to happen as the year progressed, if we will come back to school after this closure, and not being sure of everything that will happen between now and the end of the school year,” he said.

“It was a huge relief when they released an exam date, it was great just to have something to work towards and something that gave us confirmation that we would finish school this year.”

Not being able to mix with friends in a school or social setting has also been a struggle for many students.

Corey, who has always been heavily involved in local sports, says he has missed his sporting pursuits and the social bonding that comes with being part of the year 12 cohort.

“There has been no way to get away from the pressures of study – no sport, not hanging out with your mates, and we have had to skip some of the things you expect to do in year 12, like 18th birthdays, muck up day and even the valedictory ceremony, which is still uncertain.

“While I know we will get through this, that’s been one of the hardest things.”

Maffra Secondary College student Joe Capurso said it had been “a crazy year” for everyone, and just knowing there was extra help and support for all students had relieved a little pressure.

“I do feel that city students have been more impacted because of the earlier restrictions and the rapid spread of coronavirus in metropolitan Melbourne, but I can also see there are problems that are specific to regional students, like poor internet access and rural isolation,” he said.

Joe admits to being one of the lucky ones who has enjoyed the opportunity to study from home, but has found it difficult at times to maintain motivation.

“We have great support from our teachers and know we can contact them pretty much at any time, but at home there can be a lot of distractions,” he said.

“I’m still working on that one.” If there was anything at all positive for students out of this crisis, both Corey and Joe said they felt it had made students more aware of the world around them, and how they fitted into the puzzle.

Joe, who hopes to study computer science in 2021, said young people had shown resilience and adaptability in the face of global unpredictability.

Corey, who hopes to study outdoor education next year, said students had been forced to deal with so many enormous changes this year that it was bound to open their eyes to their wider responsibilities.

“We’ve been seeing how the entire world has responded to a crisis, and how we are part of that – it has to change the way you see things and expand your understanding of global issues.”