The Class of COVID 19: Why the Language of a ‘Lost Generation’ is Harmful and Damaging

The Class of COVID 19

You don’t have to look far in the media to find hyperbolic language to describe the current cohort of Year 10 students – those soon to become our Year 11s facing an uncertain examination year beginning this September. The lost generation, the Class of COVID 19 or some other sort of language that defines students not by their potential, but by the 2020 pandemic and its lasting effects.

The educational landscape has changed around the current school cohort. The way that we saw Key Stage 4 pupils’ lives panning out 6 months ago has been knocked off course, and there is no certainty that it can be corrected in the way that we, as educators, would have wanted or expected. We need to be wholly supportive of these young people as they navigate their way around their new-look schooling and beyond. 

Not lost, only on an alternative route for the class of COVID 19

Increasingly we’re hearing politicians and education groups using terms such as “the left behind generation” and “the lost generation”, not intending to assign a label but to warn of the dangers of inaction. We agree that action needs to start now, but this terminology is panic-inducing and unhelpful. 

Let’s see this as an enforced detour: our young people are not going to disappear into a hole in the ground, never to be seen again. They’re going to stick around, they’re going to be the adults of the future, and they’re going to carry all of these crazy experiences with them. We need to help them make the most of it. 

So, no more “lost” semantics please, here are some thoughts to bear in mind:

Invaluable new experiences – the “far ahead generation”

All being well, this pandemic is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone. It has been a test for virtually all of us. We see school as a formative time in a child’s life, possibly the most formative time, so this set of school-age children, the class of CVOID 19, will have spent a proportion of their education being tested to the extreme by COVID 19. So maybe we need to see this as “what have they gained?” rather than “what have they lost?” As educators it’s up to us to help our students harness that. Skills such as patience, independence, taking the initiative, self-analysis, project generation, rule-abiding, boundary-pushing, time-management, self-discipline will all have come into play. By and large, these aren’t skills that we teach in schools. This generation has the potential to be way ahead in this respect.

Finding a career is a strange and winding path

A small proportion of children have their eyes set on a distinct career path, and they focus all of their education choices on following it. A bigger majority will have much less of an idea about what they want to do in life. And let’s be honest, many of us have hit adulthood and still don’t know what to do, and are still making decisions about our careers into our 30s and 40s. Our school and work lives are often quirky and surprising. While difficult, challenging and incredibly testing, COVID 19 may soon just be another one of the many strange quirks of life for our young people.

COVID 19 creates opportunity and space to innovate

COVID 19 is going to have long-lasting effects on many sectors of society: medicine, care work, education, the economy, catering, leisure, tourism – the list goes on. Within these areas there are going to be hundreds of opportunities for the current school generation to step into and influence. This cohort can be responsible for innovations and reforms that will take us beyond the pandemic and onto the other side of normality.

Job instability now means stability when leaving school

The general workforce is having to deal with mass job loss, with speculation that in the long term we could see anything from a 7-15% increase in unemployment due to coronavirus and its effects. School-aged children now will, with any luck, be entering a job market that is likely to look more stable by the time they get there.

Let’s think about the mental health implications of the “lost” message

Assigning labels to whole swathes of the population has rarely had a positive effect. We have to handle our messaging with care in the media and in society in general, so when we’re talking about a group of impressionable teenagers it is important not to place them in the “lost” box, we should avoid generating a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. Talking about the situation with our Key Stage 4 cohort is vital, and those conversations need to be approached with realism, but positivity. Let’s encourage them to embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a new world…

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