Remote education does not just mean a new system of learning, but missing out on day-to-day interactions with friends and losing the traditional structure of days. While teachers work to engage students from home, there are concerns about the impact of lockdown on school attainment and social development.
As many students break for half-term, teenagers and their families have spoken about how the second lockdown has affected them.
‘I’m so scared about next year and the prospect of doing formal exams’
Remote learning has “definitely been a struggle”, said 17-year-old Aisha Qureshi. She is in her first year of A-levels, after having her GCSE exams cancelled last year.
“Some of my subjects, like the sciences and languages, are quite hard to understand online. I’m so scared about next year and the prospect of doing formal exams, because it’s the first time I’ve done them,” she said.
“I’m hoping there might be some news from the exam boards about reducing the exam content, or allowing us to have more time to make sure we have all our learning completed. But everyone I know is quite worried.”
Qureshi said she would like to go to university but is not sure what she wants to study yet. “I was hoping year 12 would be my time to figure that out, but not being in school and not having the same support from school careers teams to direct me has been annoying,” she said. “The thing that’s quite consoling is that everyone is in the same position.”
‘These are the best years … and I’m wasting them sat at home’
In Herefordshire, 16-year-old Noah was also finding studying for his first year of A-levels from home “a lot harder”.
“It’s quite boring. We have three-hour lessons and they’re meant to give us a break every hour, but that doesn’t happen,” he said. “In a classroom you can focus more easily, you don’t have any distraction. When you’re at home, you’re in a space where you don’t normally work.”
His mother, Sue, said she thought it was “difficult for teachers to give an interesting and stimulating lesson”.
“My children don’t want to put their cameras on, and they’re often sat in bed with the lesson playing as they do something else. They’re not really present in the lesson,” said the 47-year-old mother of three. “They’re missing out on the whole experience and the social side of school. They’re just bored. Normally they’d come home from school and share snippets of what they’ve learnt, but there’s no chat about it all.”
Noah is sitting his A-levels next year and his 14-year-old sister will also be taking her GCSEs, Sue thinks the disruption has come “in the worst possible years”.
“This year, there’ll be dispensation for students doing exams, but for those next year it’ll be the worst of all worlds. They haven’t got enough time to pick things back up and get motivated again, but there’ll be less dispensation,” she said.
The family has also found the lack of routine difficult, without the usual school rituals.
“For a younger child, you can get them into some form of routine by waking them up, getting them breakfast, but for teenagers it’s really difficult,” Sue said. “One day it’s like, I’m worried, I’m going to battle [to get them up], another day I think, I need to give them a break. There’s no real guidance or advice for parents because it’s never happened before.”
Noah and his mother both expressed disappointment about the lack of social life available to teenagers under lockdown restrictions.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with [my friends] and can play on my console and talk to them through that, but it’s not the same,” Noah said. “These are the best years, when you’re free and can do whatever you want, and I’m wasting them sat at home.”
‘I can see their levels of anxiety are higher than normal’
In Edinburgh, Emma (not her real name) has also noticed her two sons, aged 10 and 13, feeling more negative and downbeat.
“They don’t talk about it, but I can see their levels of anxiety are higher than normal,” she said. “The eldest won’t go out except with me, and he used to be out a lot before with other children. He’s also feeling really sad. I think it’s all the uncertainty. There’s no doubt it’s having a massive impact.”
Her sons’ interest in school is also dwindling.
“They’re both reluctant to do schoolwork at home, and the eldest has starting saying ‘what’s the point any more?’ That’s definitely a new thing,” she said. “The way they’re learning, its like endless homework rather than teaching. It’s hard on parents knowing how much to push, or not push.”
Without space from one another, Emma is noticing her sons fighting more than usual.
“We’re all in the house all the time together, and they’re really bored of everything,” she said. “They’re just fed up and need to take it out on something. Normally they do loads of sport, which uses up their emotional and physical energy, but they haven’t got any of that.
“I’m trying not to show my general anxiety to the kids as I don’t want to make them worried,” she added. “But we are all really worried. There’s a constant low level of anxiety about what’s happening outside.