COVID-19: Fragments and Reflections of a Graduating Class

The unprecedented nature of the global crisis of COVID-19 and the impact it has had on normal lives everywhere should not be underestimated. Those of us who make it through this crisis without being directly affected health-wise or by the losing of loved ones should count ourselves lucky. However, that is not to say that it won’t have been challenging for us all. Parents all over the world and at LIS have spoken of the challenges of working from home while at the same time trying to supervise and support the distance learning of their children. This was best summed up in a meme sent to me this past week by an old school friend and parent of Primary-aged children: ‘I wonder who my child’s school teacher will be next year. I hope it’s not me again!’ I wouldn’t call teachers front-line care workers in the way our nurses and health professionals are currently risking their lives for the health of the international populations, but it is a nice reminder of just what important institutions schools are, and what a great job they do on a daily basis.

All this considered, there is one group of our students for whom the events of the recent crisis and the ultimate cancellation of their IBDP examinations represented something of an existential crisis. How would it impact their final grades? What was the point of all of that work? Or, conversely, what about those who were banking on their final examinations to make up for disappointing and inconsistent work along the way? The fears of the future and the sense of loss for what cannot be gained was captured in some feedback expressed in their own words. Fragments of those thoughts are presented here:

‘First I was relieved, because well… no exams. Then I remembered that I was counting on these exams to save my math grade. It felt kind of disappointing that I had already put so much work into improving my maths skills to be prepared for exams, when I wouldn’t even have the chance to prove myself in the end.’

‘It’s disappointing to work so hard the past 2 years to have the exams cancelled. The graduating class doesn’t get to have a normal final year and that makes me sad because our lives have been leading up to the moment we get to graduate secondary school.’

‘Oh we enjoy each other’s company online in video chats and stuff like that. My parents aren’t too happy cuz we barely get away from our screens but that’s the only way we can stay in contact and socialize. Every morning I do my sports and go outside for an hour walk across the field. We are all quite fed up that we can’t have Abi Streich or spirit week and didn’t have a real goodbye to everyone. I’m starting to miss classmates I never thought I could miss and can’t wait for this all to be over so we can all hang out, watch movies and have a great time.’

The feeling of missing out on the best bits of graduating school – even the thrill of completing examinations – was felt strongly across the board. Of course, words like ‘bittersweet’ were used, with ‘frustration’ and ‘relief’ at not writing the exams often cited by the same student. For one, distance learning increased productivity from two to seven hours per day! In general, though, our Grade 12 students remain fearful that whatever grade they are awarded might not truly reflect what they could have achieved in normal circumstances. The most upsetting statement suggested ‘the world is against me.’

The sympathy shown when our teachers were asked the same question about this graduating group was formative and uplifting and indicative of an institution that believes in the notion of lifelong learning and international mindedness:

‘I think the exam period is a very special time in a students school life. It’s sad that they will miss out on this experience, but since it is a global problem this also unites all students around the world, which creates another valuable life experience.’

‘Actually really sad for this group. I think the exams really are a rite of passage for students (whether we agree on the weighting and importance they are given or not). This group in particular, possibly more so than any other I have had the pleasure of teaching at LIS have really started to come together and pick up momentum following the mock exams and I really believe the exam period would have come at exactly the right time for them as they were at the crest of their individual learning waves.’

These are, indeed, unprecedented times for everyone. No one will live through this crisis without, in some small way, re-evaluating how we live our lives and what matters most. And as a school of high academic, holistic and internationalist excellence, we will learn from this experience and be better for it in the future. As one teacher put it:

‘[This is] a generational experience:

They have not experienced the Fall of Communism, or the 1st Gulf War;

They will have experienced The Pandemic.’

Neil Allen

19th April, 2020

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