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COVID-19 weighs down Victoria’s Year 11 and 12 students, their parents and teachers

Sukhman Oberoi, a Year 12 student in Melbourne, spends eight hours daily on his study table at home, amidst the anxiety of COVID-19 and VCE exams. Source: Supplied

Term 3 has begun for Year 11 and 12 students across the country. With the heightened risk of the coronavirus and the accompanying stress, how are these youngsters - their parents and teachers - faring in this climate of compounded anxiety as students prepare to lay the foundation of their future?

Thousands of Year 11 and 12 students across Victoria will appear for their VCE exams in early November. The outbreak of the coronavirus in Melbourne has only amplified their perpetual anxiety of securing an ATAR that will ensure their entry into a university course of their choice.

Like their younger counterparts, students preparing for their VCE exams couldn’t afford to study remotely all the time. Since July 13, they have started attending school.


  • Students appearing for the VCE this November have resumed school
  • The stress of VCE has been intensified by the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria
  • Parents and teachers are anxious and overworked due to their extra support efforts

Sukhman Oberoi is a Year 12 student at Suzanne Cory High School in Melbourne. Aiming for an ATAR that will enable his entry into medicine, he spends around eight hours every day studying at home for his upcoming VCE exams. His timetable has been synced with his computer by the day.

“We are still trying to catch up with our studies that fell behind after the Easter holidays got extended. Our previous School Assessed Coursework (SACs) were still pending when the next became due. This has put us and our families under a lot of stress,” says the 17-year-old.

This aspiring doctor adds that Year 11 and 12 students, in general, have had up to three or four SACs in a week, which has put tremendous stress on not only them but also their teachers and parents.

“Everyone is unsure about the continuation of school from hereon considering the high number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne,” he says.

Year 12 student Sukhman's time-table synced with his computer.
Sukhman's time-table is synced with his computer by the day.

Stress and anxiety are not limited to students his age; parents and teachers are being affected too, in the current fraught atmosphere of COVID-19.

Sukhman's mother, Navjot Kaur, is an accountant at a private hospital in Melbourne. While she feels “fortunate” that her son is self-driven and responsible, she often wakes up in the middle of the night to look him up. 

“Sukhman often gets startled when I walk up to him at 1 or 2 am to see how he’s doing or give him a cup of coffee. He can’t understand my anxiety when he has to appear for VCE. I tell him that his mother can’t sleep if he is awake and stressed out,” she says.

Ms Kaur’s friends, whose children also study in Year 11 and 12, often joke with her that they are not as fortunate as her because their children need a lot of support during these crucial VCE years, especially when the entire family is present at home most of the time.

Their children's anxiety and pressure to secure an impressive ATAR score rub off on them as well.

“Parents of my son’s friends have had to adjust their working days in the office to suit them. One parent goes to work twice a week and the other, thrice. Working from home means everyone has different break times, which can be quite a challenge for parents as their employers have the same expectations from them as they did during the pre-coronavirus days,” she explains.

Amidst all this hard work and resultant pressure to perform, the role of teachers can’t be overlooked, who help Year 11 and Year 12 students reach their target.

Gurjinder Kaur Saxena, teaches physics at a Melbourne school. She says that the current coronavirus climate has made teaching a vastly different experience from what it has been for her almost all her working life.

Gurjinder Kaur Saxena, a VCE teacher in Melbourne, now wears a face shield in school.
Gurjinder Kaur Saxena, a VCE teacher in Melbourne, now wears a face shield in school.

“We hear people say that due to remote learning, screentime for students has increased significantly. But they forget that it has increased for teachers as well because now we prepare our lesson on our computers. Our sitting has increased, so has our mental stress as we see the COVID-19 data,” she explains.

On the days that Mrs Saxena goes to school to teach, she now wears a face shield.

“Wearing a mask won’t work for teachers because students won’t be able to understand what I say,” she adds.

Mrs Saxena says that teaching VCE students is an added responsibility.

“In junior classes, sometimes, you can take things easy because students have time to catch up on studies. But VCE teachers can’t, even in the current environment marred by COVID-19, because this is our only chance to impart necessary education to our students as they pave the way for their future,” she highlights.

Dr Malini Singh, a Melbourne-based psychologist agrees that the stress around VCE is real, only to be intensified by the coronavirus.

Dr Malini Singh, a Melbourne-based psychologist, advises VCE students, parents and teachers to seek mental health advice when necessary.
Dr Malini Singh, a Melbourne-based psychologist, advises VCE students, parents and teachers to seek mental health advice when necessary.

“Yes, there is high pressure on students as well as their teachers for VCE, in general. COVID-19 has added uncertainty and isolation. People have discussed with me the loss of normalcy in their life or their problems with technology. Culturally, we emphasise academic achievement which makes students anxious that poor VCE results may affect their future adversely,” she says.

Dr Singh advises parents and students to build resilience by looking at situations such as New Zealand’s earthquakes.

“Students in New Zealand did better in their exams after the earthquakes because they focused on key topics and not just the curriculum. Students and parents should manage their time efficiently, set clear routines, get help for mental health concerns, balance study, exercise, part-time jobs and make time for friends,” she advises.

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