Rufaidah Kamara reflects on learning from home, work experience with us and how schools and businesses can support young people in the future.
I did not imagine an end of Year 12 like this. This was meant to be my week of in-person work experience. Instead, I am at home, still benefiting from working virtually with the Economist Educational Foundation: writing this blog post, taking over their social media and creating competitions for students. Writing a description of life for young people under lockdown is slightly daunting, as experiences are so varied. I’ll shine a light on life for me and my peers but I’m also aware that everyone has a different story to tell.
My “lockdown” actually started at school. I was on a 3G pitch, lining up for my last exam, with only three other classmates who had turned up. It was eerily quiet and very uncomfortable. We stood in a huddle as it drizzled, complaining about how unfair it was for us to do the exam in person when presumably, everyone else would be doing it at home. I would hear later that evening the Prime Minister announce that we would be confined to our homes. At the time, we were begging for schools to close. The atmosphere was glum, it was weirdly empty with many choosing not to come in over covid-19 fears. No one wanted to be there. We did not want to sit an exam that most people weren’t there for. We amused the invigilators with our whining. Reluctantly, we sat the exam and then went home for the day. I just didn’t realise how soon I would want to be back.
In the second half of spring term, our virtual lessons started. Thankfully, our school provided two lessons per week for each of our A-level subjects, ensuring we got valuable contact time with our teachers. Virtual learning presented many challenges. There were technical difficulties: someone always forgot to turn their mic off, the lesson wouldn’t be available for everyone and links refused to work, but it was a shared experience. Motivation was my biggest challenge. My friends and I always push each other to do better, but without them and the general atmosphere and structure of school, my motivation was lacking.
Alongside lessons, we had to think about university applications. Many experiences or opportunities that would have helped build up a personal statement and references were cancelled, causing a lot of panic and stress. I’ve missed out on open days, lectures, tours, preventing me from acquiring a feel of university life. Attending a UCAS conference virtually and planning our futures was almost unbelievable. The lockdown feels never-ending and seeing life after it is strange. It is a weird experience making life-changing decisions in the middle of a pandemic. As a result, I am also considering what it means to go to a university far from my home. Do I want to take that risk in the event of a second wave or if this virus sticks around indefinitely? With the impact on the job market, can I even afford to live away from home? There’s a lot of new questions that I had never considered before this.
The stress of the lockdown was exacerbated by its isolating nature. If I felt like I was falling behind in a lesson it was much harder to get one-to-one help. I couldn’t lean over to a friend if I missed a few points on a slide. I found it harder to ask questions and I was overthinking everything I said. I felt very much alone as answers popped up from others as I sat there stumped. It was easier to pretend I understood rather than being put on a stage in front of everyone while they all knew I wasn’t keeping up. Beyond school life, I felt powerless to assist my friends in their personal lives. I couldn’t offer something as simple as a hug, only reassurances through words.
Loneliness also had a big impact on the way I engaged with the news. The growing spotlight on Anti-Blackness was a huge part of my lockdown experience. The endless trawling through social media of racist post after racist post, videos of Black trauma and murder and seeing how the people in power just didn’t care, was hard to deal with alone. It caused me so much stress and upset to the point where it showed through exhaustion and the shakes. I am Black and South Asian but am visibly Black before anything else. I had to come to terms with how my race would affect me in life: what my university experience would be, what my job prospects would look like and how I would be treated differently. Growing up in a diverse London borough, racism isn’t something I’ve had to face directly, but I’ve seen and heard about it all my life. My part of growing up in this lockdown was all about preparation for the outside world and its judgment.
On reflection, I feel quite lucky. I am taking part in work experience for the Economist Educational Foundation. Being given the responsibility of writing this post about the lockdown, taking over their social media to share important and relevant resources, along with creating competitions and resources for schools, is an amazing opportunity. The pandemic has cut out work experience for many others as companies don’t have the time or resources to take on a student. Some students may have also had guardians lose income sources. For some, the loss of a family member has taken precedence before their studies. It is difficult to be studying, planning our futures and dealing with a pandemic all at the same time. I hope exam boards and university admissions teams take this unprecedented situation into account when they make their decisions.
I’m optimistic about the future. I think business and schools can make appropriate changes to ensure virtual working or learning is accessible for all. I have had a fantastic experience working with the Economist Educational Foundation team, who have adjusted very well to virtual work. I believe it’s crucial for any institution, whether it’s a business, a school or a university to keep in close contact with everyone: ensuring people update each other regularly and remain sympathetic to others’ circumstances.
Rufaidah joined us for three days of online work experience in July 2020.