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Friday, September 17, 2021

Our students need reassurance, and they are getting none

There have been no public messages to assuage student anxiety.

Reading Time: 2 minutes 

The current Covid surge and lockdowns in NSW and Victoria, with national State-border closures is having a huge impact on students.

Coming later in the year than the 2020 lockdown, this time senior school students are more impacted.

The refrain from the NSW Premier for people to ‘be responsible’ affects responsible people in the same way as a schoolteacher scolding a class when one person speaks. In education, the most effective discipline occurs when perpetrators are sanctioned – not the whole class.  

Senior school students in Australia’s most populous states, NSW and Victoria, now face deep uncertainty about whether their trial exams will be further delayed and even whether the HSC will be delayed.

In 2020 senior educational bureaucrats clarified early that exams would go ahead. To date this has been the 2021 message. Bureaucrats deem this leadership. I deem this management. Last year students sought leadership, not just management. They needed reassurance.

Leadership would tell students what they need to hear. It would reassure all students that everything will be fine and their ATARs will not be negatively affected by these circumstances. This message should come from the Minister and should be repeated by senior bureaucrats. After all, the administrative task has been performed. Senior students and schools have heard, “exams will go ahead.” 

Exams resuming as normal for students
Exams resuming as normal for students. Source: Canva

The management of timetables is always easier than the leadership of people. Leadership requires reading the mood. Understanding people. It is not a course on EQ, but rather an authentic understanding of vulnerability and anxiety. Leadership can view the world from the position of those most affected and disaffected.

Leadership should also come from the university sector. Chancellors everywhere should also message directly to those finishing schools this year. The message should be that no-one will be disadvantaged from getting the place they have worked so hard to achieve – despite disruptions in Year 11 (last year) and now this year.

I asked students how they would feel if they were given reassurance from those who manage systems. They said it would take away the anxiety they feel. This anxiety is amplified despite the best intentions of Principals and other school-level managers. After all, these people do not decide when State-based exams will be on, they do not administer the marking process and they do not decide on ATARs. The students appreciate their schools but need something much more.

They need reassurance.

This reassurance should come from a place of recognition.

Decisions made to protect interest can also cripple achievement. Uncertainty and anxiety cloud the minds of those seeking to prepare for Trial HSC and VCE exams. These students need to be actively reassured that they will not suffer inequity, they will be looked after and that despite uncertain times there is a brighter future ahead.

Is this facet of leadership beyond the realm of imagination?

READ ALSO: ‘Regret choosing Australia’: Intl students give up on Oz universities


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Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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