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Why the Class of 2020 might be the strongest students we’ve ever produced.

As we near the end of the school year, graduation ceremonies look set to be yet another casualty of COVID. Yet, if any cohort deserves the tears and cheers of a full ceremony, it’s this year’s Year 12s.  

There’s the obvious reason, of course. Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on their final and, arguably, most significant year of learning - locking them out of classrooms when they needed friends and teachers most.  

But that’s not all. Because in truth, crisis has long been ‘the new normal’ for the Class of 2020.

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This is a generation who were born in the wake of 9/11 and started their educational journey in the shadow of the GFC.

Theirs has been the age of terrorism, climate change, racial violence, and frightening political vitriol. Now they finish up their schooling in the midst of a global pandemic that looks set to claim one million lives before the year is over. 

More than our praise, they command our respect. Because so far, coming of age in the 21st century hasn’t been all roses. 

Before I’m sarcastically told to get the violins out, let’s admit that many of us have been reluctant to give Generation Z the credit they deserve. 

We’ve overlooked their grit and snarkily remarked on their alleged entitlement, laziness, and apathy instead. 

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We’ve somehow landed on the belief that technological revolution has made their lives easy instead of confusing, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. 

We’ve been quick to write them off as iPad wielding whingers while they make sense of a world that has many adults feeling afraid. 

In doing so, we have ignored the fact that Gen Z-ers know better than anyone else how to live in these uncertain and anxious times. In fact, COVID proved that we’d do well to stop, listen and start following their example. 

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Want to see resilience? Talk to a young person who’s sat a maths exam in the middle of a pandemic that’s claimed 900,000 lives.  

Is it agility and flexibility you’re after? Look no further than every student who switched to remote learning overnight.  

Perspective? After the bushfires, black lives matter, and COVID this year alone – I think we can safely say these kids know more about the world than any humanities curriculum could’ve taught them.

In this way, the catastrophic debacle of the 2020 school year actually highlighted everything that makes Generation Z uniquely qualified to pilot the future of Australia, and the world. 

Because while the whole world teetered on the verge of collapse – they simply got on with learning.

So while we’ve patted teachers and parents on the back, the standing ovation should go to the Class of 2020.

After all they’ve been through, they finally reached the finish line. And whatever socially distanced form our graduation ceremonies take this year, let’s make sure the message is clear: we couldn’t be more proud. 

Allan Dougan is the Global Head of Global Education at 3PLearning.com and former school Principal in Scotland. He was awarded runner-up in Scottish Teacher of The Year 2006. 

Feature Image: Getty

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