The crushing mental toll of studying for the HSC in lockdown is sapping our motivation and hope | Max O’Connor
Early July last year in the exam hall of Dulwich Hill High, it was quiet except for the scribbling of hundreds of pens over various trial HSC papers. Sitting directly adjacent to the hall, I remember playing hangman in year 11 biology, laughing with my mates about how horrid an HSC year spent studying in lockdown would be.
The 2020 Covid malaise had settled in New South Wales, effectively suffocating motivations, aspirations, and study plans alike. For many of us “belowies” it was a bit of a relief: how could something like this happen again?
Now I sit at my desk at home, struggling through another session of Adobe Connect, and it has been 20 or so straight hours since I left my room. It’s quite amusing how hard schadenfreude can bite you in the arse.
Lockdown meant our trial HSC exams were postponed and, on 20 July, the class of 2021 awoke to discover that the due dates for every major work, across all subjects, had been pushed back a fortnight. Jubilation was quick to flood Instagram stories, as students revelled in the prospect of an extra two weeks of refining, improving or in some cases starting; but for many kids finishing their major works in lockdown seemed a near impossible task.
As a middle-class kid in a stable home, my major work experiences in Covid have been nothing if not privileged. Doing a personal interest project, a predominantly research- and writing-based major, much of the work merely required a laptop, and with the help of my incredible teacher, the process was relatively painless.
However, under stressful lockdown conditions, progressing and especially completing major works consisting of more practical components, such as visual arts, design and technology, music, textiles and drama, are much more difficult.
For the brave souls engaged in group performances, meeting with fellow group members has been impossible. For music students, group coordination has fallen to pieces since lockdown because they can’t practice together. For some, the inability to access school resources have left them without the means to bring to a satisfactory conclusion a year’s worth of blood, sweat and tears. For textiles students, having no access to the school’s machines and equipment has been detrimental to the major work process.
For others, the absence of face-to-face teacher interaction makes giving or receiving feedback a task equal to putting one’s head through a rather sturdy wall. For visual arts projects, lockdown has taken away the teacher’s ability to actually experience the artwork, a crucial part of any appropriate feedback.
For many of us finishing our major works in this lockdown, motivations have been sapped and hope lost to the precariousness of our situation. This is only compounded by the fear, worry and concern caused by Covid. Added to the stress and anxiety typical of the final year of school, it is battering an already cowering sanity.
When asked about her state of mind, one of my fellow society and culture students said: “I have little to no sanity and unfortunately procrastination is the only thing keeping me from a complete meltdown, although it has been no help to my work.”
While everyone is struggling, the inability to access resources for teachers’ assistance are issues only compounded by economic disparity.
Indeed, while attending a fairly well-off public high school, in a fairly well-off area, we of the Dully year 12s have it bad. But students who are completing major works without their own computer, without the means to buy their own supplies, without the space to work quietly and without interruption are put at a severe and largely insurmountable disadvantage.
For me this presents a minute bump in a road that has otherwise been blessed by good fortune. Now that the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has announced rapid testing for HSC students is likely to be introduced, hopefully things are headed in a better direction. Hopefully.
Nevertheless, the mental toll of lockdown has certainly made its mark and for me, the transition from a relatively calm editing and refining of the Pip to desperately trying to get it finished before exams kick off is likely to be anything but smooth.
Anyway, it’ll be good to see my mates.
Max O’Connor is a year 12 student at Dulwich Hill high school