Students and parents in closed areas of New South Wales face weeks of further disruption to schooling, especially for 12th graders about to take their final exams.
The test exams for the state’s Higher School Certificate (HSC) have been amended or postponed, and some 12th grade students have returned to distance learning as part of the ongoing lockdown of greater Sydney, the central coast, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong.
HSC essay exams are often the first time students are assessed on everything they have learned in their senior year. They contribute heavily to a student’s internal score, which makes up a large portion of their eventual Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).
A year 12 student from Sydney told Guardian Australia it was stressful not knowing whether her exams would be pushed back any further, or even completed at all. She said it also added to the stress of studying from home during the lockdown.
“Adjusting to homework, watching Zoom all day and on the computer can be very tiring,” she said.
“I know that me and a lot of my friends have a hard time keeping up the motivation. We are trying to be positive.
“I really prefer to work in the library or somewhere outside of the house. A big stress for me is to stay focused.
She said her exams were due to start next week, but had been pushed back by two weeks under the current lockdown, which could be extended.
“There is also a concern as to whether the scores are going to be estimated if we don’t end up doing trials, or if they will be pushed back further… Everyone is worried that if the trials are to be estimated, we have to work. super tough at HSC.
She added that many students had spent months studying for their essays, including during school holidays, and waited for exams to end rather than extended.
“I really wish it was over,” she said. “I’m a pretty sociable person so I find it difficult… I couldn’t wait to come back and see all my friends.”
Schools in the Shellharbour local government area, which are included in greater Sydney, are also affected although the area has not recorded any cases of Covid-19 during this outbreak.
Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba said parents and students are struggling to switch to distance learning.
“These students who are doing trials and HSC later this year, they are very concerned about their opportunities to study and learn,” said Saliba.
“This learning process usually happens when you are in groups of other students. Not having your peers around you makes it very, very difficult.
“We all know HSC isn’t the end, but kids are under so much pressure these days. It’s about the confidence to pass these exams without being overwhelmed. The Covid is overwhelming for adults. For young people, it is even more overwhelming.
Not all schools offer HSC tests, and the processes differ among public, independent, and Catholic schools.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education, which operates public schools, said schools should take the best interests of students into account when managing their HSC test exams under locking.
The department said schools in greater Sydney, which includes the Shellhabour LGA, were ordered not to hold test exams until July 30, and that NSW Health was working on “updated advice on the Covid-safe exams “.
“Schools in Greater Sydney have the flexibility and support to manage HSC trials in the way that works best for their students,” the department said.
“Schools will consider what is in the best interests of their students when making decisions about test exams.
The department also said that the NSW Education Standards Authority, which oversees the HSC, had “made some changes to the rules regarding school-based assessments so that schools can postpone their trial exams or develop an alternative assessment.”
“NESA also reassured the students that they would get their HSC and that their hard work would be recognized. “
Saliba said LGA Shellharbour schools were always open for students whose parents were essential workers and for children in foster care.
Some people in the Shellharbour community were struggling to understand the lockdown, Saliba said.
“There have been no positive cases at Shellharbour,” she said.
“I understand why the NSW government is concerned. But it doesn’t make sense to my community why we are in lockdown.
“It will be five weeks by the time we come to the end of this two week period. Can you imagine having a 10 year old and working from home? This is the situation I and many parents find ourselves in.