“I know the dangers of COVID. Late last year, my family and I had to endure the horrific experience of watching my grandfather slowly deteriorate in a hospital bed from this disease. We said goodbye to him over FaceTime. We attended his funeral via zoom. What follows in this letter is written not from the perspective of a teenager throwing a tantrum, but instead from somebody who has experienced the horror of this pandemic first-hand and knows how it can tear people apart.”
Below is an opinion piece written by a Fairlight resident, a teenaged boy, expected to sit for his HSC this year. He reached out to Manly Observer and asked to express his thoughts on the topic. We verified his ID and sought guardian approval, and mutually agreed not to disclose his identity. The picture used is a stock image. This articulate piece is the opinion of the author.
I am writing to you in relation to the recent develops to the restrictions regarding Year 12 students and COVID restrictions. I attend a local school in Greater Sydney, as a Year 12 student. I do not write on behalf of my school, but instead express my own personal beliefs on this matter.
What the state government has proposed in relation to trials and the HSC exams is simply ineffective, hypocritical, and dangerous. NESA has repeatedly bared its teeth at the idea that the ATAR should be drawn from alternative measures, that avoid in-person exams. The NSW Education Minister herself almost blew a fuse at the idea, labelling the alternative as “preposterous.” Many people, who have far more influence and capital than I, have argued for a reformed statement from NESA to open this option up again. But instead, I want to make an appeal to you from an extremely personal note.
I know the dangers of COVID. Late last year, my family and I had to endure the horrific experience of watching my grandfather slowly deteriorate in a hospital bed from this disease. We said goodbye to him over FaceTime. We attended his funeral via zoom. What follows in this letter is written not from the perspective of a teenager throwing a tantrum, but instead from somebody who has experienced the horror of this pandemic first-hand and knows how it can tear people apart.
The Premier has repeatedly stated that the government is operating off health advice, and that the advice is telling them that this outbreak is spreading through workplaces and households.
What astounds me is moments after the Premier stated this, she also announced that Year 12 students will be returning to school for the Trial exams in 2 weeks.
This effectively creates a workplace with 100 to 300 people per school across Greater Sydney, where households will become cross contaminated.
By completely ruling out the option of basing the ATAR on internal marks, simply closes the gate to a COVID-safe alternative to the normal HSC exams, and puts thousands at risk. It was just announced that a man in his 20s died from the virus in Sydney. We know that this outbreak is affecting our generation and will continue to do so.
For me, this highlights a couple of truths. Firstly, the interests of government when it comes to the ATAR does not lie within the interests of students and teachers’ wellbeing. Instead, it is adopting an “by all means necessary” strategy to get that final data set out at the end of the year. They do so by significantly risking the lives of the tens of thousands of students and teachers who will be returning to school in under two weeks.
Further to this, both the Premier and Dr Chant alluded to on the 4 August that their advice on Year 12 in-person learning will change in the following days, however stressed that the advice will ensure that HSC students will sit the exams in October. They foreshadowed that there will not be a “uniform” rule applied to all schools, and that Year 12 students in the eight LGAs of concern will be treated differently, due to the high level of risk.
This also seems ludicrous to me. A refusal to apply “uniform” advice to all schools across Greater Sydney is only going to exacerbate the already growing divide in HSC performance across the state due to this outbreak. LGAs such as my own [Northern beaches] are going to be “benefited”, due to our low number of cases, and the others left in the dust of online learning, which in some cases includes a resource drought and a lack of state funding to operate smoothly.
Instead, as the UK adopted, a blanket statement from the government ruling out all in-person exams while COVID is still a significant risk to the community will provide clarity and equity across the state when it comes to the HSC. But they still refuse to do this.
My one request of you, as a reader, is to listen. Listen to what is happening and stop to think about what the state is proposing. They are facilitating an increase of cases, which will lead to more hospitalisations and death. They are willingly risking the wellbeing and lives of students and teachers, for the sake of appearance and tradition. They are throwing fits when we question their motives, and stamping their feet when we call them out on inconsistent policy. You should not stand for this. There are safe methods of making the 2021 HSC possible in NSW, and we should not be ruling them out.
What I have gotten from the government in this lockdown is an icy response to any concerns, and an advertisement campaign showing a woman dying of COVID in a hospital bed, suffocating me with flashbacks to my last moments with grandad. And I still can’t do anything about it. I still feel, to all intents and purposes, useless. So, this is me, acting up, and making my voice heard.
Year 12 Student, Sydney
Latest HSC Announcement from NSW Government
The following is a media statement from the NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, sent to Manly Observer this morning, 6 August:
A flexible operating model for schools across Greater Sydney has been announced today, providing the opportunity for HSC students to access their schools safely from August 16.
Under the model, secondary schools will operate under an updated COVID safety plan, jointly developed by NSW Health and Education, to provide opportunities for essential curriculum delivery, wellbeing support and check-ins for HSC students as they complete their final year.
School assessments and trial exams will be completed at home across all schools in Greater Sydney.
Individual school plans will leverage their physical spaces and timetables to minimise mixing between students and support physical distancing and will only involve small groups of students at any one time. Clear guidelines will be provided to schools so they can create their plans.
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said the government would continue to follow health advice while prioritising HSC students to access their schools for essential education and wellbeing support where this cannot be delivered online.
“Education is essential, and we must provide our HSC students the opportunity to receive the curriculum and wellbeing support they need during the last few months of their schooling,” Ms Mitchell said.
“A comprehensive and flexible model will allow schools to provide HSC students essential lessons and check-ins with teachers sensibly and safely.”
HSC students living or learning in the eight LGAs of concern (Blacktown, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool and Parramatta) will not return to school yet. HSC students from the LGAs of concern will also not return to school if they go to school outside those LGAs. Schools in the areas of concern will be asked to prepare for HSC students’ return in the coming weeks, allowing time for their vaccinations to be given and take effect.
Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said vaccines are essential to our recovery.
“The vaccination hub for HSC students living or learning in the eight LGAs opens on Monday, and we strongly encourage every eligible student to take up the opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Mr Hazzard said.
Qudos Bank Arena will be available from 9 August as a vaccination hub for Year 12 students in the eight local government areas of concern.