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August 11, 2020

The Youth Are Being Ignored In This Pandemic

Spoiler alert: If you do not want to hear the impact of the pandemic on young people told by a 15 year old, move on.

It has been several months into lockdown and frankly, I am sick and tired of the government’s failure to address young people’s concerns and the severe impacts that the pandemic is having on our lives. Of course, the initial focus of the media and leaders has been front line workers and those deemed to be most at risk by the government. However, all we have heard is the impact of the virus, on adults told by adults.

All young people have been affected to some extent, but some groups have experienced the wrath of this pandemic to a far greater extent. This includes young carers; bereaved individuals; young BIPOC; deprived communities; young people suffering with either mental or physical conditions and young people from other marginalised backgrounds. Despite continuous calls by youth led organisations to consult us, we have been purposely forgotten in this crisis.

I remember quite vividly sitting at school in my half-empty English class early March and throughout the whole lesson, the atmosphere was gradually getting more tense. No one was really talking or looking around at anyone, except for their blank piece of paper. The gravity of the whole situation was weighing on our shoulders. The lesson slowly came to an end, and just before we scurry out, my teacher starts handing out homework, declaring “business as usual.”

The once silent classroom erupted with noise, voicing their concerns that it was no use if we were not coming back in the next few days.

Taking the work I had to do, I stuffed it in my bag and decided that sooner or later, school was going to be closed.

Even when Boris was informed, he insisted that the government was “led by science” and he went as far to suggest in one interview, we could just allow the disease to move through the population.

If we as students could understand the severity, why did our leaders think that the UK could somehow escape the disease raging in our European neighbours of Italy and France?

From the very beginning, our voices were going to be silenced, purely due to the lack of clarity we were getting in terms of what was going to happen with our education. GCSE and A-Level exams this year were cancelled and instead, student’s grades will be determined through a combination of mock and predicted grades, class work and rankings. Relying on these assessments and class ranking though will likely penalise students from low-income households and students of ethnic minorities, specifically the Black community. Not only are these students less likely to be able to navigate the appeals process after, racial biases and societal class differences play a massive part in this. Not only is this a worry for Year 11 students who may require specific grades to get into their chosen college/sixth form, but also for Year 13’s as well who are unsure of their future plans to go to university, go on a gap year, do an apprenticeship or go into the world of work.

Over in Scotland, protests and petitions are gaining momentum as we speak over the SQA exam results and rightly so. The SQA lowered around 125,000 estimated grades. The government has decided that it is fine to give lower grades to students based on their postcodes. Pupils in highly deprived areas have been penalised, yet again, sending us a very loud signal that the government is reinforcing the educational gap. It also means that here in England, we might see the same thing happening with this year’s GCSE and A-Level exam results in which teacher assessed grades have not been used to calculate the vast majority of results. 

The government still insists that Year 10’s and Year 12’s will sit their exams next year as normal. I don’t think it is feasible at all. Expecting students like me who will be sitting GCSE’s next year to catch up lessons as normal just further widens the inequality gap and decreases the morale & confidence of students. Year 12s, like my sister, are being put under increasing pressure to perform.

Lockdown is damaging our wellbeing. Young people are struggling with isolation, loneliness and increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Instead of talking about young people, talk TO us because we are approachable and do want our views to be heard.

Please listen whilst I explain the 3 main issues that we have and the solutions to them too.

Problem numero uno — We have asked numerous times for a dedicated youth press conference and still it has not been delivered. Leaders in Scotland, Norway and New Zealand have held question and answer sessions. Simple solution. Hold a youth press conference and answer our questions honestly. That’s it.

Problem numero dos — We need an elected youth minister to work with elected youth representatives like myself and other young people throughout the UK and organisations like iWill and Beatfreeks to ensure our views are fed into national policy making. Like I said, we want to be listened to.

Problem numero tres — Everyone has been affected by this lockdown. However, some young people are struggling with it more than others. This includes young people with disabilities, suffering mental health, students from lower income households & ethnic minorities, bereaved young people and young people from other marginalised communities. These students are unable to receive the resources we need to learn at home and look after our wellbeing. Even when Gavin Williamson — Secretary of State for Education – announced the scheme in April for free devices to be given out for those who do not have them, many head teachers have said that they have not received a single device for disadvantaged year 10 pupils.

This is a shame for those in power and a real disappointment for these individuals who need real support.

As young people, we must rise up in the absence of strong leadership.

We are not the leaders of tomorrow.

We are the change makers of today.

Yumna Hussen is a 15-year-old student who is the Deputy Member of Youth Parliament for Birmingham. In this capacity, Yumna works with her youth council to consult councillors, MP’s and different organisations on issues that affect young people. She is also a Youth Leader for BiteBack2030, an organisation that seeks to enable young people to have fair access to healthy foods. She loves writing and performing poetry, writing articles online as a freelancer. At 13 years old, she co-authored a book available on Amazon called “Struggles of War”.

Twitter: @Yumna_Hussen