Flat White

The class of Covid-19

24 August 2020

11:35 AM

24 August 2020

11:35 AM

While coronavirus poses a deadly threat to older people, it is young Australians who will take the heaviest hit from the longterm chaos wrought by Covid-19 — perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Although the health and economic impacts of the virus have dominated the political discussion, the extremely tough situation facing school students has received scant and inadequate attention.

Parents of school-age kids, from late primary to Year 12, are more or less on their own in determining what, if anything, is able to be salvaged from this year of disruption. Schools have tried, to varying degrees, to adjust expectations and be supportive but for many students, the slog of solitary work at the home desk continues. 

The shambles surrounding the cancelling of exams within the United Kingdom GCSE system has angered almost a million British students and given zero comfort to students in Australia who are not far off sitting their own exams. 

Every school year is critically important in providing students with the navigational tools they need to determine their abilities, interests and future direction. Each year builds self-confidence, stronger skills and more solid relationships. 

Disruption to one of those years has a domino effect on future years, making even harder the normal challenges faced by students wrestling with ‘post-school‘ choices. 

Some parents have enlisted private tutors to prepare for exams, some students have sat back and done the bare minimum — believing no-one will be given a fail in 2020 – – and others are openly debating repeating the year they regard as totally lost. 

Year 12 students have been dealt a very tough hand as a result of the chaos impacting every facet of teaching and co-curricular activity this year.

Essentially young adults, Year 12 students have been forced to reassess every aspect of their school and social life, in a compressed time frame, and with the added pressure of upcoming exams. 

The incalculable damage from this crisis is likely to impact every young person financially and socially for decades.  It will narrow, perhaps for some wipeout, employment opportunities and limit choices such as housing, mobility and their capacity to save. Their resilience, self-confidence and self-reliance will be tested even more than is to be expected at this age. 

It is entirely right that experts are talking openly about the mental health impacts of Covid-19 given all that we know about the consequences of sudden, high impact changes to people’s lives.  Uncertainty is pernicious and corrupting to all of us but especially the young. 

There’s a slow but discernible awareness emerging around the country that the fallout from Covid-19 will significantly, and disproportionately, impact the lives of people still at school, at university, college or those who had just started apprenticeships.  

The consequences of Covid-19 will be felt for longer, and more severely, in Victoria. Debt repayment, fiscal and social stability, health and welfare challenges will fall largely to young people to grapple with — notwithstanding their weakened capacity to do so. 

Young Victorians, acutely aware of the scale of the disaster in their state, are starting to wake up to the shocking legacy that will be left them once Premier Daniel Andrews, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and Treasurer, Tim Pallas, have long departed their Treasury Place ministerial suites. 

By then, other politicians — some now not even in parliament — will be left to piece together a shattered economy. The Budget deficit in Victoria is now more than $7.5 billion, with hundreds of thousands of people out of work and a decline in property prices of around nine per cent. It is not overstating it to say that restoring jobs, confidence and pride could take a quarter of a century or more.  

With only a few months to go before just over 50,000 students sit their final exams, the belated efforts of the Victorian Government to be seen to be supportive and encouraging of 2020 VCE students could well have unintended consequences. It is policy ‘on the run’. 

Education Minister James Merlino’s unconvincing efforts to explain the proposed changes to VCE assessment left many wondering how precisely the changes would work.   Many students fear that a 2020 VCE certificate won’t be worth the paper it’s written on. Some students may benefit from these changes, but by no means all.  The cohort will all be part of Gen-C, Generation Covid.

Tertiary students, who have also had their studies thrown into chaos, are asking entirely understandable questions too regarding ‘decision making’ in response to Covid-19.  Students have made remarkable adjustments to online learning, but have contended with long hours in front of the screen just to keep up with course work! 

It’s been tough on staff at universities as they too have adjusted to rapid changes in teaching methods while not qualifying for Job Keeper.  No public university qualified. 

Young people — more than ever — need support, understanding and mentoring. They need older siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends to be there for them, to listen to them and to advise them on choices they can make – despite Covid-19. Everyone has a responsibility to think deeply about those near to them and how best they may be able to support them.

Humans thrive on certainty in much the same way as financial markets. Without it, risks are elevated and decision making becomes clouded by doubt and indecision.

Young people are not looking for sympathy right now. Nor are they looking for patronising summations from the political class. They know that all Australians are facing the Covid-19 challenges together.  They are resilient and we are about to see just how resilient they can be given the challenges ahead of them.

That said, calm reassurance, guidance, mentoring and sometimes a steer towards something they hadn’t previously considered, might be the ingredient in someone’s life that sees them achieve their potential and secure their future.

The world we are in demands different responses from those that applied in 2019. This is 2020 and life for many will never be the same again.

John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.

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