Nathan Gunn thought his last year of his schooling would be the best year of his life.
- A Mission Australia survey found school disruptions were one of the biggest pandemic concerns
- The Mission Australia survey found young people in Victoria were the most concerned
- Sacred Heart School Fitzroy principal Matthew Shawcross said teachers should be vaccinated as a priority to stop disruptions
Instead, the former Eltham High School student spent most of 2020 cut off from his peers and feeling depressed — and he is not the only one.
A Mission Australia survey of more than 18,000 young people has found isolation and disruption to education have been the biggest causes of anxiety during the pandemic, with people in Victoria faring the worst.
“At the beginning [of 2020], the first couple of months were just amazing … being at school with each other and being able to learn, but also the social side of it was awesome. And we had Schoolies planned for the end of the year,” Mr Gunn said.
“I think sometimes I was depressed … I just lacked motivation and excitement.”
On Wednesday, Victorian students headed back to school after lockdown 5.0 was lifted.
But there are concerns about how lockdowns may affect their future.
Disruption to everyday lives a worry for young
The Young Voices of the Pandemic: Youth Survey COVID Report 2020 survey asked 18,486 people between the ages of 15 and 19 about their biggest concerns over a five-month period between April and August last year.
More than 900 young people said COVID-19 impacted education, isolation and mental health, with 17-year-olds in senior school particularly worried about their education.
Nationally, four in 10 or 41.1 per cent of respondents who said COVID-19 affected their education were 17 years old.
More than one-third or 34.4 per cent of respondents who reported COVID-19 and education were their top personal concerns were living in Victoria.
Almost half or 43.9 per cent of the young people who revealed personal concerns in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on being and feeling isolated were living in Victoria.
Nationally, more than two-thirds of those reporting mental health concerns due to COVID-19 were young females — 68.9 per cent of females compared with 23.9 per cent of males.
Young people affected by COVID-19 described disruptions to their everyday lives as making them feel worried and stressed and without access to their usual supports.
Concerns about flow-on effect on young people’s future
Mission Australia’s chief executive James Toomey said the findings made clear the breadth and depth of the toll that COVID-19 had on young people living in Australia.
“Major disruptions to education, increased isolation from peers, family and community, and mental health concerns understandably featured heavily within young people’s responses,” Mr Toomey said.
“The severe impact of the pandemic on young Victorians, in particular, is not unexpected, given these young people endured Australia’s longest lockdown in 2020 and extended school closures.
“The pandemic is still in play. With lockdowns and tighter restrictions recently triggered in response to COVID-19, we must take heed of what young people told us about their experiences and solutions in 2020.”
Mr Toomey said Mission Australia was very concerned the impact of the virus would continue to affect young people’s lives now and in their future.
“To best support our young people and mitigate any negative consequences they may face due to the pandemic, we must begin by listening to them and ensure that the right supports and systems are in place,” he said.
Vaccinate to ensure schools remain open, principal says
Teachers at Sacred Heart School Fitzroy developed an award-winning remote-learning program during past lockdowns, but principal Matthew Shawcross said nothing compared to being back in the classroom.
“I know that they’re all feeling very excited about being back, and certainly our teachers and the rest of our staff are excited to be back in the classroom with our kids today,” Mr Shawcross said.
“I think as humans, we’re all collaborative learners, and that’s the area that remote learning is not able to address, so we’re really excited about being able to welcome our children back.”
Mr Shawcross is one of the growing numbers of education professionals calling for vaccines for all teachers.
“It needs to be a priority to ensure that children’s learning is not interrupted any more than what it has been, into the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Fitzroy parent Anyelan Yak said she was happy school was resuming.
“I’m very excited the kids are going back to school because it’s a bit hard at home,” Ms Yak said.
She said her children had been feeling frustrated by lockdown life.
“They haven’t been happy in lockdown,” Ms Yak said.
“They ask, ‘Why do we always need these lockdowns?’ I tell them it’s because of coronavirus. So they’re happy today to go back to school.”
‘Hang in there, talk to your friends’
Mission Australia also asked those surveyed for solutions.
The young people asked for extra support completing their final year of school during COVID-19 restrictions to make sure they could achieve their educational goals, and also asked for more mental health programs.
Mr Gunn said had it not been for COVID-19, he would have performed better at school.
“I actually did not end up passing school at the end of it … the year was a write-off for me,” he said.
“I really empathise with my friends who are in year 12 right now.