14 Nov 2022

Covid-19: Students embrace 'bare minimum' approach to learning after disrupted years

12:54 pm on 14 November 2022
Asian girls students writing test exams on paper for Admissions in high school with uniform student in row seat School classroom of Thailand,

The principal of Hutt Valley High School says extended periods of home-learning over the past few years have led to some students doing the bare minimum to get the qualifications they need. Photo: 123RF

From lack of motivation to increased dependence on mobile phones, secondary schools are counting the cost of the pandemic.

At Hutt Valley High School, students and teachers told RNZ that nearly three years of lockdowns, rostering home and other measures had made them appreciate the value of face-to-face contact and think twice about the amount of NCEA assessment.

The school's head students, Diana Galloway and Max Webb, said they had struggled with motivation during the past couple of years.

"Because we weren't doing a lot of face-to-face learning I didn't really push myself, which meant my work ethic just went downhill so it made it very hard to do all my studying and make sure I was on track," Diana said.

Both students said they were not sitting any exams this year.

"I have chosen not to do any exams. I think one thing the pandemic has taught me is getting by is just enough," Max said.

"As much as my academic level has stayed the same, this year especially I've just focused on getting by, getting through, getting the bare minimum to get to university."

One of the school's head teachers for the arts, Anna Flaherty, said the cumulative toll on teens' motivation was obvious.

"There's a little bit of dragging their feet," she said.

"As a globe and as a country we started out as if this was a sprint, you know, and then it somehow turned into this long-distance, cross-country sort of thing so the effect of everything ongoing, that's been the biggest shift that I've seen in kids."

But Flaherty said the pandemic had brought some positive changes.

She said teachers and students appreciated face-to-face contact more, and they were doing less NCEA assessment.

The school's head of PE and health, Mark Oates, said students needed more help with their home-based learning than might have been expected.

"With our seniors we're certainly finding that they're probably not as organised. We gave a lot of extensions of when deadlines were due," he said.

"We tried to make it a lot easier and a lot more manageable for students and even then, in a lot of cases they've dropped the [ball] - especially our seniors."

Oates said another issue was that teens had developed a much greater dependency on phones and similar devices in the past couple of years.

"We've really tried to switch that culture [so] that when students turn up to class there are no cellphones in the classroom," he said.

"The need to have a device all the time ... it's just become such a habit for them."

The school's principal Denise Johnson said it used home learning during lockdowns and also because mould had made some classrooms unusable last year.

"Students have lost connection with the school at times from lots of home learning," she said.

"That's something we're going to have to try and grapple back next year. I think that's the key thing. You have a school for the social sense of a school, for a community to come together and it's been a little bit disjointed."

She said achievement had not suffered, but many students were clearly doing the bare minimum to get the qualifications they needed.

However, attendance had dropped slightly.

"Our attendance has been not too bad but definitely lower than pre-pandemic. There was a while there where kids would say 'well I'll just go online and I don't need to come all the way into school'," she said.

"So it has been lower and that will be something that has to be re-set next year. But it has also proven that there are things that can be done in that hybrid fashion and online."

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