Students outside Auckland miss out on lockdown support

By Matthew Scott
Waitaki District Youth Council chair Ethan Reille (front) says the Government needs to involve students in the consultation process when it comes to making decisions about lockdown changes to schooling. Photo: Supplied

Students beyond Auckland are likely to miss out on changed NCEA credits as they've not been in lockdown for 20 days or more - and want their voices to be heard when it comes to what support is available

It’s not an easy time to be a high school student.

Since March of last year, getting to go to class in person has become a luxury. Unequal access to online learning and disruptions have raised stress levels as students counted up credits with an eye to university entrance.

In response, NZQA and the Ministry of Education brought out a range of measures to keep students’ education on the rails.

Laptops were distributed through schools to students in need, and support such as lower passing thresholds were introduced.

The ministry anticipated the problems the first lockdown would be giving students, and acted quickly.

But this year, things are different.

As most of the country comes out of its second stint at Level 4, students outside of Auckland are saying they are being neglected when it comes to lockdown support.

The current standard requires students to have had 20 full school days in lockdown before they are eligible for support.

However, with most of the country’s schools opening their doors again later this week, they will come just a few days short of the required number.

Students want to know why they shouldn’t get additional support when the uncertainties and disruptions of this year have still had a huge impact on their ability to learn.

Year 12 student and Waitaki District Youth Council chair Ethan Reille said while students were given allowances for the difficulties of the pandemic, this year the 20-day rule means there are no such concessions.

“The expectations are as if this was 2019,” he said. “Even if we were in lockdown for less time this year, it still has a big impact. We can’t be expecting our students to be achieving as they would in a normal year.”

And with two-thirds of the country’s secondary school students located outside of Auckland, it’s the majority who won’t get that extra bit of help.

Reille said last year’s support package reduced stress in a year that came with enough of its own stresses, especially for high-achieving students gunning for high level endorsements.

“Even just lowering some endorsement requirements for the rest of the country would take some of the pressure off,” he said.

He said the lockdown disruptions have caused widespread anxiety.

“Students are stressed, I myself am angry, upset and bloody anxious,” he said. “Many of us are unsure if we will even pass, let alone make it to our exams to be able to pass.”

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said the 20-day threshold may be reconsidered.

"That was a limit that we agreed earlier in this year when we were considering what an appropriate threshold might be," he said. "Obviously now we are in a unique position where the majority of students will only be two days shy of that, so I can indicate that is something I am having another look at."

He acknowledged a large part of the burden of getting students through lockdown falls to schools rather than the Ministry.

"The reality is the legwork does sit with individual schools," he said. "Schools have to operationalise the shutdown caused by Level 4 or even Level 3 restrictions."

The Waitaki District Youth Council, who recently surveyed Kiwi students and found the majority of them don't like the exam extension or not being consulted about such decisions. Photo: Supplied

The Waitaki District Youth Council recently surveyed students to find out how they’re feeling about changes to schooling due to lockdown.

Reille said students were very keen to have their say, with 301 submissions from both islands coming in just under 24 hours.

He said students are disgruntled with the Ministry of Education and NZQA’s consultation process, especially when it comes to the decision to extend the exam season into December.

“The response was very clear,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of students were against the exam extension.”

The survey received a range of responses from students worried about their future plans, saying they needed to be working for those weeks in order to afford their next life step. But with exams now stretching out into December, their plans are up in the air.

In a Ministry of Education bulletin released Monday, Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said there has been widespread disruption of schools.

“All schools and kura have faced disruption due to the latest national lockdown and ongoing uncertainty caused by Covid-19,” she said. “With examinations on the horizon, we know how difficult it continues to be for students, teachers and their whānau nationwide.”

She said the ministry is aware of schools that have felt the impact of lockdown but don’t meet the required 20 days and are looking at solutions.

“All schools have felt the impact of the current outbreak and we are working closely with the sector to consider how we make sure all students receive appropriate support, even if they do not meet the 20 school days in Alert Level 3 or 4 four-week threshold,” she said. “As always, our goal is to ensure all students have a fair opportunity to achieve NCEA, regardless of location or alert level status.”

In a letter sent to NZQA and the Ministry of Education, Waitaki District Youth Council said ultimately the issue comes down to young people having a voice.

“The Government needs to set out new rules for eligibility of these support conditions, otherwise our education system will continue to crumble,” said Reille. “We cannot expect students to go another year of entering exams with mental health issues and extreme pressure - our futures are ultimately on the line, and all we want is to be listened to.”

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