Life

I'm 17 and COVID-19 Has Messed Up My Generation

Do we apply to university, sit exams or give up?
16 July 2020, 8:15am
Shivam Chowdhary
Shivam, the author

As a 17 year-old, I was initially overjoyed when I learned we would be studying from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. No school! What more could we want? But no student could have guessed the mind-numbing tepidity that was to follow: 4 months of scrolling through TikTok, online lessons, ruined sleep routines, pessimism, and a general lack of motivation to do absolutely anything. In short, COVID-19 has fucked everything.

My year – Year 12 – is in a state of utter disarray. We have no idea if exams are on next year, and if so how they would work. We’ve missed a full term of school, have no idea how to write a personal statement, yet still have to write one because we’re expected to apply to universities, which we also can’t visit.

The past few months have not only been a hindrance to our education and start in life, but they’re also taking an entirely negative jab at our mental health. Could the government have done more to ensure our year has the educational backbone we need to succeed for our exams next year?

Milla Rose Hall, a 17 year-old from west London, thinks so: “The government didn’t handle [the schooling situation] well. There has been little clarity on what is to happen for Year 12s which has definitely caused mass hysteria among our year – it would have been nice to know what was going on education-wise as these are very crucial years for us.”

Milla, age 17

With everything up in the air, our year group’s mental health has vastly deteriorated. “It’s been very hard to balance online work and trying to stay sane, particularly in the first months of lockdown,” says Rosy Randall Noraika, 16, from west London.

The isolated nature of lockdown has profoundly affected me, and there’s been more discussion than usual on Instagram and social media about mental health and the effect of solitude on my generation. I’m feeling much more restless and anxious about the future and being homebound has exacerbated this nihilistic thought process and my inertia.

Sadie Souter, a 17 year-old from Ealing, feels similarly. “The ongoing and sickening feeling that my youth has been stolen was the worst part of lockdown. I couldn’t shake off the ideas of all the things I was missing, particularly as this had been the best year in school for me, both socially and educationally.”

The lack of clarification about what’s going to happen next has been nauseating to work through. 16 year-old Jesse Sharp feels stressed out about everything. “This anxiety-inducing lockdown has definitely meant I’ve taken a blow to my education and [it has] emphasised other areas of weaknesses for me… lockdown has made me uncertain about my future, with no idea what’s happening in regard to unis and A-Levels."

Jesse, age 16

It’s not just students who are feeling left behind and let down by the government either. One teacher, who chose to remain anonymous, told me: “There has been a clear lack of decisive action on the part of the government. Online lessons have been a nightmare to conduct and it’s simply not the same as teaching in a classroom.”

Another teacher, who also wished to remain anonymous, agrees. “Microsoft Team meetings just aren’t functional. I’m worried your year will suffer as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.”

The uncertainty over the future has had detrimental effects on my generation. Some education specialists, such as former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, has stated that students have “lost out on so much” of their course that they should “have to re-sit a year.”

Meanwhile, students have called for the curriculum content of our exams to be dramatically cut down, with a petition on Parliament’s website gaining over 140,000 signatures. Exam watchdog Ofqual, on the other hand, has stated that exams could be pushed back a month while also implementing more optional questions into the exams.

Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier says: "We have considered a wide range of options before coming forward with a set of proposals for next year’s GCSE, AS and A level exams which will help reduce the pressure on students and teachers, while allowing them to progress with valid qualifications which higher educational institutions and employers can trust."

There’s such a plethora of differing statements from authoritative education figures that there can simply be no guessing what occurs next year. Do we sit exams? Do we apply for university? What, exactly, do we do?? I feel it’s only fair that our curriculum is cut down to ensure we can revise well enough for our exams, while also taking in mind our burdens. Whatever happens, action must be taken to ensure that my generation is looked after and reassured. The lack of information about what comes next has been dizzying and anxiety-inducing, and there must be something done. Otherwise, COVID-19 has fucked us for life.

@shivchow