In times of crisis, human rights aren’t necessarily a priority. And, it turns out, in a pandemic, children’s human rights can easily be forgotten. So on Human Rights Day, it’s the perfect time to think back over the last few months, and hopefully decision-makers can learn some important lessons.
Children and young people have had to endure a lot in 2020. Because of coronavirus, our schools were closed and teaching moved online, our exams were cancelled, our mental health suffered, and we couldn’t even meet our friends for support. And during all that, no one in power ever asked us “what do you think?”. Our rights didn’t seem to matter at all.
2020’s had an impact on education
On the day Education Secretary John Swinney announced that our exams were cancelled, there was a lot of emotion. What he said really brought home how serious the situation was. I’ll always remember the way he worded that statement. He told the Scottish Parliament that not even during the war did we stop exams but now we were having to.
I was due to be doing National 5s in May. I was sitting in school just before we moved to online learning, listening to him and all I could think about was that I didn’t have a good run at prelims. No one knew what was going to happen. My maths teacher tried to reassure me that it didn’t necessarily mean I’d fail the year, but she couldn’t be sure. There was no clarity – we didn’t know how we’d be assessed and how we’d get our grades.
It was such a stressful time. Then we were told we’d be moderated based on coursework and teachers’ predictions (and, it turned out, past experiences of the school) and right away, everyone went crazy. There was all this noise and discussion going on above our heads. We were the ones who were being affected but nobody asked our views. They were talking about something that was so important to us and our lives, but we had no say in it.
When we got our results, it was clear what a mess had been made. That week of being told “here are your results” and the government and SQA saying “oops, sorry, we made a mistake” was horrific. I got four grades lowered from my predicted grades and I wasn’t the worst affected in my class by any means. It was genuinely awful. After a massive outcry, they realised that they did have to trust the teachers. I didn’t fail any exams even with the lowered grades but I didn’t get what I would have been capable of had the exams been running.
2020’s had an impact on mental health
What has been tough is the impact on my mental health. I have anxiety so, particularly at the start of the pandemic, I found the best way to deal with it was by taking it a day at a time. My dad has two jobs, and he’s a key worker in both so it was very worrying. It was getting to the point that I wasn’t leaving the house, not even to exercise. One day, my dad ended up dragging me to Tesco because I hadn’t left the house in 12 days. At first, I overwhelmed myself with plans of what I was going to do in lockdown, but what I really needed to do was to take a step back and process it.
We’ll look back on this and think “how did we get through this?” and I say that knowing that there are people alive who went through in the war, who had to ration. All we had to do was stay inside, but it was a big upheaval of our society in a very different way. The last thing for me to get up and running online was my local youth forum. It’s been a huge part of my life for two years and when it reformed, I felt like I had a bit of normality back. Similarly, going back to school in August was crucial in getting everyone back into a routine and really helped me cope better.
Unfortunately, because of the new rules, my school counsellor can’t work between two schools so she’s moving to another one. We’re supposed to be getting a replacement but I don’t know when that will be. My youth worker has been checking in loads. The support from people in the youth sector has always been there, and has continued to be during the pandemic.
I always thought I was self-sufficient but I missed human contact during lockdown. To be separated from other people in the way we were felt so un-natural. I know that such strict measures were necessary to deal with a public health emergency but our rights shouldn’t have been ignored when decisions affecting us were being made. They should have asked us what we thought – and listened to our answers.