Challenges that students will face after COVID 19 and how to overcome them

On March 23rd PM Boris Johnson announced that UK will be under strict lockdown due to the devastating impact of the new invisible killer called COVID-19. Since then we have seen and heard scary, crazy and strange things from toilet papers becoming the most desiring commodity to people not being able to see their loved ones for a long period of time. The pandemic has affected the world to the extent that would take years to measure and in the midst of it all has been the education system worldwide where we will be seeing the repercussions in many upcoming weeks and months. For a youngster isolation and lockdown can be the most miserable experience to go through. More than three and half months of staying at home has naturally brought children face to face with number of physical and mental challenges that may have irrevocably damaged their mindset and will power.

Many schools throughout the country including school where I work, were operational for vulnerable children and children of key staff. There are some heart wrenching stories where children and their families have been facing adversities such as lack of wellbeing, financial insecurities, mental heath issues and risk of abuse and neglect. There is no doubt that when these students come back in September they won’t be the same. Every student will have their own story.

When the lockdown began in March it led to many uncertainties and for obvious reasons the priority was always to support the vulnerable children and children of key staff. After some initial uncertainties we moved to online learning to replace the classroom teaching. Online lessons which, although the only option in the current circumstances, nevertheless couldn’t match the consistency and face to face interaction of classroom teaching. However, it did provide our students an assurance that they are moving forwarded with their studies, led by their teachers. But still, from September onwards we are going to need much more cohesive efforts between students and their teachers. After I have spoken to some of my Year 12s, it was unequivocally clear that obstacles they are facing, if not destroyed, would create a detrimental impact on their future. I am writing this blog for every student so you can understand the barriers that may come in the way of your leanring from September and prepare yourself to destroy them.

What are these obstacles? How can students overcome them and get back on track?

Fear of failure leading to anxiety and procrastination

Do you think a children are afraid when they take their first step? May be they are. But when you have a look at their faces, they are full of excitement. They fall, get up, fall again, get hurt, cry a little may be and then try again. It is just not human to give up because of fear of failure. COVID has instilled number of fears in our hearts and minds. When we are afraid, our survival instincts kick in and we get defensive. Our first instinct is to protect ourselves and we start looking for reasons to justify our failures – mostly by blaming others or situation and circumstances. In other words, we accept that we are going to fail. This leads to lack to motivation and never ending procrastination.

“The one who falls and gets up is stronger than the one who never tried. Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.”

One of the best exercises I have done to overcome my fears is to make a list of fearful things that are making me afraid. Then I would put them in two categories – things I can control and things I cannot control. No matter what my mind would say I focus on things which I can actually control and let go of what I can’t control. COVID situation is out of your control. Organising your day, your week is something you can start now. All you need is pen and paper. Writing down your Personalised Checklist for your subjects is what you can start now. Taking small steps towards your goals and making a start is under your control. Outcomes of exams, uni applications is not in your control. However, preparing yourself to master the content and starting off with first draft of your application is under your control. If you start early and spend enough time and effort then you would realise that your confidence and determination has replaced the feeling of that fear form your mind.

Having a conversation with your teachers and mentors would be beneficial in getting rid of your fears. May be you are afraid of something that is not even true. Assessments are not always to penalise students and to grade them. Assessments can be a useful tool to have baseline data to measure a progress of a student from one point to another. Teachers plan assessments in order to create an action plan for their students so every student can have appropriate support towards their future goals. Your grade in the exams that you are afraid to sit for could be the starting point of your journey towards progression.

Stuck in COVID routine

I remember doing assemblies on distractions for learning and students telling me that biggest distractions for their learning were video games, phones and social media. The fact is that youngsters didn’t have much to do during lockdown and those what we called distractions for learning became the only essential source of wellbeing and socialising. This caused number of youngsters to drift away form their normal routine and dragged them into a strange trance where time didn’t play any role. Many of these youngsters who were early birds before lockdown became night owls.

“Habits and routine have unbelievable power of waste and destroy”

We must remind ourselves that the key to resilience is having a disciplined routine. Remember the last success you had, it could be GCSEs or any mock assessment, you achieved that success because you followed a strict routine. Reinventing your morning is never going to be easy. It is going to take more than few fails and little bit of trial and error. Setting up a daily plan with progressive but realistic tasks would help a lot. Most successful people visualise how they would feel at the end of the day when if they accomplished every task on their planner. Jordan Gross in his book Getting COMFY suggests that your first task when you wake up must be something that you love doing. You are, then looking forward to wake up every morning. But for every learner who thrives for success, it is all about trying every day until you achieve your goal and wake up on the time that gets you the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge.

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
~Marcus Aurelius

Another technique that successful people use is that they visualise their failure and imagine what they could have done to turn it into a success. Research shows that visualising positive and negative outcomes, and paying attention to the details in both scenarios can create a motivation to accomplish difficult tasks. So if you are looking to apply for a specific course at uni, you would visualise succeeding and failing in securing your place there. In both scenarios, you would focus on what did you do or didn’t do that led you to each outcome. This hypothetical exercise of reflecting on your actions can make you question your routine and create a sense of incentive for you to reach your ambitions.

I have heaps of tasks and I don’t know how to prioritise?

Let’s start with the notion that you own time. You can use time the way you choose to do so. The challenge is that you have number of things to do with your time. Entrance exam preparation, UCAS Application, working on your subject content, preparing for upcoming exams, summer school placements, Work Experience and on top of everything keeping yourself and your loved ones safe and secure. Chances are, if you have set a routine for yourself and have everything written down in form of a todo list, you are one step closer to getting started. Out of 24 hours, you are either asleep or awake. We need to look at the awake time and see how we can use it in most effective manner. On average youngsters sleep 9 hours which will leave us with 15 hours of daily awake time. Now let’s look at how much time you would need for each of the things on your todo list.

According to the guide published by medicportal.com, a student should be utilising 10% of their study time in preparation of UCAT, BMAT or any other entrance exam. So if you are studying 25 hours a week you should be using 2.5 hours for preparation from 6 weeks building up to the entrance exam. Apart from that if you are doing EPQ, you are required to spend 3 hours a week to keep things going. Your UCAS application would need you to work for 3 hours a week.

In regards to your subject content I have seen high achieving students dividing their content in three categories: high effort, medium effort and low effort. They will prioritise the content that requires high effort over the content that requires medium or low effort to prepare for. So if you know that you have Topic A in subject X that is going to take higher effort, you will start working on it before any other topic. Make notes and do exam practice on that topic until you gain the confidence to move on to the next one. Dividing your tasks based on the effort required to complete them lets you to see the tasks individually.

Have you watched Extraction on Netflix? One of the most memorable lines in the movie is spoken by a youngster named Ovi when he is talking to Chris Hemsworth’s character.

“You drown not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it”

This sums up the message of my blog. UK government has made it clear that they are now working hard to bring life to normal as before. When schools start in September a student’s mindset and their determination will decide the next step. Schools are planning to put in place Autumn catch up plans to support students and these supportive plans are not to penalise or punish the learners. Every professional needs help and support during struggle times. Students must acknowledge the challenges that will be in their way from next academic year. Don’t be afraid of spending some extra weekly hours in the classroom or at school if your teachers plan some tutoring time outside their lesson time. Work with your teachers, help them identify these obstacles and start building up strategies to destroy them and achieve your goals.

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