My Covid education: East Auckland student says inequalities in learning made worse by pandemic

As NCEA examinations continue around the country, it signals the beginning of the end of an eventful year for many. But, for some students, they say the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges their communities were already facing. 1 NEWS spoke to three Auckland students as they look back on 2020.

George Gray. Source: Supplied

George Gray says the Covid-19 pandemic has left him feeling less prepared for his NCEA exams. 

“I'm feeling under-prepared because of the uncertainty this year around Covid. But, I think I’ll be OK.” 

Still, the Year 12 Edgewater College student from Mt Wellington is flying high. Gray was recently named his college’s head boy for 2021. He was also awarded a scholarship worth $22,000. 

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He’ll be completing his studies in NCEA Level 2 English, social studies, history, outdoor education, music and Level 3 Te Reo Māori by the end of the school year. 

Gray said Edgewater College had done its best to support its students despite a challenging year. The decile two school provided laptops for students who needed it and also gave students the opportunity to take part in a “hackathon” to earn credits or improve their marks. 

But, he said he was one of the lucky ones. 

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It's been a difficult year for many students, with Covid-19 interrupting classes. Source: 1 NEWS

When he’s not at school, Gray is a member of the youth-led community group Tāmaki Youth Council.

One of the group’s projects this year included collecting young people’s experiences of the education system from around the country to then share on social media

Gray said, depending on the demographic group or family circumstances of a student, “I could see that there were two baskets people would lead into.”

“So, one side was people were having real bad hardships because of our education system.

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“In another basket, there were people who felt really supported and helped by our education system.”

He said the issue of inequality in education wasn’t new, but it had been made worse by the pandemic. 

Throughout the pandemic, 1 NEWS documented stories of students in low decile schools dropping out to support their whānau financially. 

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Gray said he’d seen the same. 

“I remember a student telling me that even though they had devices and internet connection at home, they couldn’t really find time to study because of how big their families are and other family conflicts. 

“Looking after parents, for instance, or younger siblings, or having to work a job to provide money and food for family because their parents have gone into redundancy because of Covid.

“It’s been hard for some to study because of all those factors.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a number of changes intended to assist students through the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year. 

These included delaying the start of NCEA exams by 10 days, awarding additional “learning recognition credits” and providing internet access and laptops. 

Gray said he hoped to see the education system would, in future, be “flexible and understanding of our students’ needs and hear their voices”. 

“From my point of view, the Ministry [of Education] has done a lot, but they haven’t done enough to provide for our students.”

For example, he said being given additional learning recognition credits was a “token” gesture. 

“I don’t think that’s enough considering we’ve basically lost a term’s worth of learning.”

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Covid-19 has caused disruption for many high school students this year. Source: 1 NEWS

When it came to education, he stressed: “One size doesn’t fit all.”

“It’s also being able to teach standards differently. I know how my school has adapted by giving our students an opportunity to submit work in different ways.

“So if the standard doesn’t necessarily provide literacy or writing credits, the student is able to present information in ways that the student feels comfortable, not necessarily just writing.

“Because for heaps of our PI and Māori, writing isn't always a strength. But some of us are able to stand up and talk in presentations,” Gray, of Samoan and Pākehā heritage, said.