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Orkney’s senior students talk lockdown learning and exams

Date: 14 March 2022

6th year KGS

If the past two years has proven anything, it’s how our young students are resilient to change.

Orkney’s 6th year pupils are preparing for their first and last full, sit-down school exams next month.

Despite the best efforts of the teachers and parents supporting them, they have spent their entire senior phase – S4 to S6 – largely in a state of limbo, uncertain of what may happen from one week as a result of the pandemic.

From lockdowns to restrictions, guidance to relaxations, the past 24 months have taken its toll on everyone. But there’s a dogged determination to succeed that shines through from the Kirkwall Grammar School students we spoke to as they prepare for their first exams.

As a North Isles resident, Caitlin was not just cut off in terms of a stretch of water during the first lockdown but found the abysmal connectivity a real headache when it came to schoolwork.

“Our connectivity is horrific,” she said. “Many a night I cycled to the school to send assignments. It was definitely a challenge living on an island where you are already isolated enough, let alone being stuck there for six months without seeing anyone.”

Caitlin, who is planning on studying sport and physical activity at university, did learn very quickly how to adapt.

“One good thing to come out of lockdown was the fact I was on a tight schedule as a family we had to divide up the time using the wi-fi at home. This meant I had to stick to a routine and assignments were handed in on time.

“I also found I became more independent and gained in confidence in actually asking for help if I needed it. My communication skills improved as a result. All of this feels as if it may make the upcoming exams and the transition to university a bit easier.”

Caitlin does feel that they have missed out on their senior phase. “It almost feels as though we are not old enough to be going away to uni as we haven’t had our full time in school.”

Jasmine, also S6, has taken some positives from the pandemic and has changed how she learns as a result.

“Like many others, I had little experience of using Teams before the country went into the full-blown lockdown in 2020, so I found the sudden change to remote learning a challenge. The school hadn’t used Teams much before this and we did most of our work in jotters. When it went to online learning at home the teachers, like us, were learning as we went along.”

Living on the Mainland but quite a distance from the exchange, the connectivity wasn’t as fast as she would have liked, but it was workable.

“Doing all the learning online was quite a shock at first but I got used to it and now I pretty much do all my work on a laptop. I could probably come to school now with only my laptop as all my notes are on One Note. I find it really easy having everything in one place. Although when I’m revising I do still tend to write notes in jotters.”

Jasmine is sitting five exams this year starting on 26 April and finishing on 19 May and has a fairly relaxed outlook. “I’m not too anxious – although not 100 per cent confident either! I’m definitely trying not to stress too much about it and started revising early.”

She is planning to utilise the Easter Study SupportpProgramme available to students this year. The e-Sgoil programme runs between 7-14 April, providing live interactive daytime webinars.

There will be 80 webinar groups covering 66 courses, ranging across levels from N4 through to N5, Higher and Advanced Higher. Each group will meet for three different online sessions. Head here for more https://e-sgoil.com/easter-study-support/

 

Jasmine’s positive outlook is commendable given the disruption of the past two years, but she acknowledges that they have missed out.

“As seniors we haven’t had the whole school experience – things like Children in Need week, which is probably one of the best weeks of S6 – we had to do this with a lot of COVID restrictions and we’ve had many cancelled events. During lockdowns I missed having a teacher face-to-face to ask them questions. In an online lesson you don’t always want to ask something.”

As to the further lifting of restrictions, particularly the removal of the requirement to wear masks in class, Jasmine remains very laid back.

“I don’t really mind either way. I quite like not having to wear one in class, but on the other hand I quite often forget to take it off as well!”

Fellow S6 student, Charlotte, found motivation quite a challenge during lockdown, although she has also taken away some positives from remote learning.

“Having no-one there to push me was a definite challenge for me. I also missed seeing my friends every day, but we were all in the same boat.

“I was in my room doing all my schoolwork and I would work in my own time, which actually helped me focus more on the areas that I needed to work more on. I did find it a little more relaxing during lockdown as opposed to learning at school.”

Being in a town, Charlotte’s wif-fi connection was good, although everyone in the family was vying for its use, which slowed things down.

Focusing on one final end exam is challenging, she feels.

“Before it was little tests throughout the year that you were sitting while everything was fresh in your mind. Now everything relies on one exam. I’m planning on studying dietetics at university and I am hoping that this revision needed now for the exams will help onwards in terms of the next stage.”

She also feels they have missed out on so much in their senior phase.

“We haven’t had a senior phase at all really. We were supposed to be going on a skiing trip to the French Alps which was put off twice. That was really disappointing to miss out on as I’m sure it would have been an amazing experience. I’m also part of the group Hadhirgaan and we haven’t had any practices or concerts.”

For senior student Megan getting a new laptop made all the difference to remote learning – highlighting the importance of students having access to new and modern devices.

Her initial older and much slower piece of kit had left her feeling frustrated and unmotivated.

“If I had an online lessons it would take about half an hour to get up and running which was such a nuisance and actually put you off so it was difficult to motivate myself, especially when you are sitting in your room by yourself. Not being able to go and see my teachers was hard especially as I had been used to going to supported study every day and getting that extra bit of help. I found asking for that support through emails didn’t work for me, so I found myself not putting in as much effort as previously.”

However, Megan, who is hoping to study medicine at university, has also become a more independent learner as a result.

“A new laptop made a huge difference, but I also found I wasn’t just sending an email to ask for help if I didn’t know the answer to a question, I would open my books or go online to get an explanation. I think this will be really useful for university.”

Megan has four exams starting on 29 April and finishing on 19 May and is hopeful after doing well in her prelims.

“It’s all a bit surreal still. I can’t quite believe that we will actually be facing full and final exams in just weeks. I don’t think it has sunk in yet that it is really happening.”

  • Summary:

    If the past two years has proven anything, it’s how our young students are resilient to change.

    Orkney’s 6th year pupils are preparing for their first and last full, sit-down school exams next month.

    Despite the best efforts of the teachers and parents supporting them, they have spent their entire senior phase – S4 to S6 – largely in a state of limbo, uncertain of what may happen from one week as a result of the pandemic.

  • Category:
    • Covid-19
    • Education

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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