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Marie Su'a, Aorere College Dean 12.06.22

Marie discusses the strain that Covid-19 has had on the students of Aorere College, and how adapting to online studies has been challenging for all.

"For our teenagers, loss of social contact was a big issue. They are social creatures by nature and school is where the socialising happens. Since the pandemic started, there has been a forced absence from their mates and instead they were locked down at home for extended periods of time. This has affected their mental health as their main form of socialising has been moved online rather than face to face."

As educators, we see the problems that can arise with online social media and other digital platforms. Being forced to interact on those platforms more during the pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of our students. Coming back to face-to-face interactions has been hard for some young people and some are still recovering from the after-effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also become a prevalent excuse for being away from school and their education.

For our teenagers, loss of social contact was a big issue. They are social creatures by nature and school is where the socialising happens. Since the pandemic started, there has been a forced absence from their mates and instead they were locked down at home for extended periods of time. This has affected their mental health as their main form of socialising has been moved online rather than face to face. As much as technology is a help during these times, we all know the negative things that can happen from online interactions. 

Online interactions make people more open to saying things they would never say to another person's face. The social norms which are there for face-to-face interactions disappear when interacting online. Words and threats are said which would not be said looking at someone. Challenges are made which would not be made looking at someone. When they come face to face, the words, threats, and challenges are still fresh and sometimes it goes too far. For some of our students, they feel that the only option is to resort to violence to try and sort these issues out. 

Where is the place where they finally come face to face with the other person? School. Add to the mix, a crowd of teenagers who are actively encouraging the conflict and you have a perfect recipe for violence to happen. As educators, we are sometimes too late to the party and must deal with the aftermath. When we do get wind that something is about to go down and we manage to make them sit down and talk to each other to restore what has been broken, that’s a good feeling. 

Furthermore, I have noticed a need for some of our kids to grow up really quickly. As their families have had to cope with losing their jobs or losing pay, many older kids have opted to start working to help pay the bills. Families become used to the additional income. When school started up again this year, the need to continue working to keep the family income at the level they need to survive didn’t go away… even though the restrictions have. Some of our students are working 40+ hours per week and are still trying to come to school full-time because they want to finish school with their mates and continue to learn. The strain must be huge. 

As a school, we try to allow them the time to do both, because if we insist on them leaving their jobs to commit to school, we know that the family will suffer with the loss of income. Some families will lose as much as $900 a week from the multiple 12 hour shifts being worked. If we insist on students leaving school because their attendance is not up to the required level, then we are taking away their right to feel valued as a student and a human being. 

During these times especially, I feel we need to be kinder and work with our students to see the year through. So many expectations are put onto young people, and it’s a heavy burden to have to make such life changing decisions. 

If 2022 finishes without any more lockdowns, or new variants to cause those lockdowns, then I feel we may be on the road to a greater sense of normality in the near future.

Written by Marie Su'a

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