Students begin preparing for Year 12 as soon as they begin high school. They are constantly reminded their final exams can play a key role in determining the rest of their life. So what happens when a global pandemic turns your final year of school on its head? 

State and federal governments are meeting on Tuesday to figure out how to navigate Year 12 during a pandemic. Already, different states have begun implementing measures in response to the crisis. NSW has cancelled performances usually required for drama and music extension in the High School Certificate (HSC), Victoria has pushed back the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) exams until December, and Tasmania is allowing some students to be accepted into university based on teacher recommendations, not results.

However, the finer details in each state remain seriously unclear. For the students themselves, it’s just another huge cause of worry when they’re already dealing with a whole bunch of shit.

PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke to a number of HSC students in NSW, who told us about the bleak, uncertain and unprecedented time they’re finding themselves living through.

The confusion begins at the most simple level: whether or not students should even be going to school. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian last week encouraged parents to keep their kids at home, but said schools would remain open

Can someone just tell me whats happening lol

“I’m confused,” Alex told PTV. “My parents are confused. I’ve been going to school on and off. It’s frustrating because I always feel like I’m doing the wrong thing. Like literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” 

The stars have seemingly aligned to form the perfect shit-storm for the Year 12 class of 2020. The final year of schooling is an incredibly stressful time in and of itself, but this has been exacerbated by not knowing how what will be marked, family and domestic issues, financial issues regarding parents losing their jobs, mental health conditions made worse by not being able to socialise, and not to mention fear of catching the disease itself.

“I’ve never been more unmotivated,” Jermaine said.

“What’s the point when even the teachers are saying they don’t know what’s going to happen? I’ve found myself taking it less seriously already.” 

Angus agreed, telling us: “All I want is clear answers so that my motivation for the HSC can be sustained. All my friends are finding it hard to keep up that Year 12 grind with all of the ambiguity that surrounds us.”

“School is so social, and I need that.”

Social distancing might be both crucial right now and a privilege not everyone can take part in, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. For students, the social aspect of school is a crucial break from the endless round of classes, study, assignments, and exams.

“I don’t like being homebound. School is so social, and I need that,” Mimi said.

“I really just miss having a laugh with my friends about something dumb that happens in a moment. It relieves stress. It’s great to interact with people going through the same thing and confide in each other about whatever. Now I don’t interact with anyone, only through a screen. ‘We’re all in this together’ was the motto of facing the HSC, but now we are isolated.”

There’s also the very real fear that isolation will exacerbate mental health conditions, with one student, Sam*, telling us that their pre-existing depression and anxiety had “really ramped up this past month”.

Another student, Angus, said the situation was having a “significant impact” on his mental health.

“I find that all of my motivation has drained,” he said. “I begin to feel tired and fatigued with sitting at my desk for completing a school day and then staying at that same desk to do ‘after school’ study for five more hours. There’s no doubt we are all living unbalanced lives.”

Public versus private schools

Many public schools simply don’t have the facilities for online learning, and it’s unclear how this incredible disadvantage will be rectified.

Niamh, who goes to a public school in Sydney’s north, spoke on her school’s disadvantage in this situation.

“I go to one of the most underfunded public schools in the state. We don’t have the facilities for online learning, at all, we aren’t given laptops,” she said.

“What’s going to happen with our marks if we have to say away? Kids at my school come from fucked up environments or situations at home and school is their only escape. Lots of us have mental illness, live in refuges, live on the outskirts of Sydney, have learning disabilities.”

Even for students in schools with the means and facilities for online learning are finding it difficult to adjust. 

“We have had trials of remote learning,” Sam said.

“It’s basically Google Hangouts with the whole class. But, it’s so easy to get distracted. They expect us to still be in uniform from home, but it’s not going to happen. I can easily turn off my mic and camera. I went on my phone and looked up clothes on Depop during the class. I feel like I need a teacher in front of me to keep me accountable, but I’m trying my best.”

Domestic, financial and health issues during COVID-19

Having no choice but to stay inside the family home during an economic crisis, combined with parents’ fears of contracting the disease, can feel like living in a pressure cooker for domestic issues. Being expected to study and perform as you would at school is a ridiculous assumption. A few students who wished to remain anonymous told us how it’s affecting their lives.

“My parents are on the brink of losing their jobs. It’s causing heaps of stress at home, plus I have to stay there,” one student, Jack*, told P.TV.

“It’s hard to study biology when your mum is crying… I need to talk about other lighthearted things with my friends. That’s another benefit of school, just joking around. Now everything feels pretty harsh.”

Another student, Ali*, spoke of a similar situation.

“Yesterday I couldn’t hear the teacher on Google Hangouts as my parents were arguing, I lost half the lesson,” he said.

“For now my mum’s job is safe. But it’s a day-to-day thing. We won’t know when our situation is about to change.”

Then there are students with pre-existing health conditions, who have to study for their exams while living in fear of catching the virus.

“I am diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a respiratory illness. It puts me at high risk of serious illness if I contract COVID-19,” Jess* told P.TV.

“So I’m trying to stay super safe during this really uncertain time. But getting a good HSC mark is also extremely important to me, just trying to balance it all.”

What the hell now?

Every school day counts in Year 12. With so much time already lost, there is no perfect solution for determining HSC results.

“A slimmed-down syllabus is the main solution we are hearing about,” Mimi said.

“But if they do that, that’s a massive chunk of knowledge that I’m missing out on anyway. And if I get into uni, I’m ultimately going to feel unprepared for it. Like, I don’t feel like I could go to uni with the knowledge I have now. That’s what year twelve is for. But I feel like we’ve already wasted so much time.”

Angus suggested using Year 11 marks to estimate what their Year 12 marks might have been, but this wouldn’t be a perfect solution, either.

“A huge chunk of the NSW Year 12 population significantly steps it up in Year 12 so Year 11 marks in most cases won’t be an accurate portrayal of a students ability,” he said.

Whatever happens, it’s not going to be a fair assessment. The Australia-wide class of 2020 is working through something unprecedented, and one which – hopefully – the class of 2021 won’t need to repeat.

“We all deserve a chance to prove our full potential and just like all the years before us were able to do,” Niamh said.

*Names have been changed.

Image: Getty