VCE whiplash: From ‘don’t worry’ to the most stressful time of our lives

If the VCE is a marathon, parents are the volunteers, cheering their Year 12s onto the next mile, handing out cups of water and snacks. While Year 12 and its challenges can be generally seen as insignificant in life’s bigger picture, for most students this is the largest, most enduring and consuming obstacle they have faced in their lives so far. And like all obstacles, we need help overcoming them.

For many year 12s, this support comes from parents. Many parents who have the ability and resources to do so are or carefully curating their calendars to work from home after their Year 12s finish school in the afternoon.

It seems ironic that at a time when young people are supposed to transition into adults and start to seek independence from their parents, we begin to depend on our parents more – they become our shoulders to cry on after a hard day, companions for our late night trips to Officeworks, or study mates by quizzing us on key concepts before an important SAC.

As ironic as it is, it is also not completely surprising. For most year 12s, there is nothing quite as nightmare-inducing as the thought of the mysterious number-crunching and data-shifting the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority will do at the end of the year to produce the four numbers that will seemingly define our whole educational journey.

No matter how often schools, educators or commentators tell us that our ATARs and study scores don’t define us, for those few weeks until we can solidify plans for the next few years of our lives, they do. And ultimately, as much as we are grateful for their support in navigating VCE, it is also hard to trust their words when so much of their messaging around education drastically changes in Year 11 and 12.

From primary school, we were told to forget about our grades, and instead focus on the pursuit for deeper knowledge that would set us up for life. This lesson extended to all subjects and all aspects of school. I distinctly remember talking to teachers before each NAPLAN test and being told not to define ourselves through our results, and to manage stress levels.

A few years later, when we start Year 11, the focus changes to memorising the study design, with stress levels too high to even consider going deeper in our pursuit for knowledge.

Also in the early primary years, we were told not to compete academically with others, that our only competition is with ourselves. How can we possibly remember that in VCE when the whims of the bell curve can make or break us?

And like our parents scaling back on their hours, many of us have to scale back on our hobbies and passions to balance the intense workload of VCE. Whether it be swimming, piano, or acting in the school play; our attempts to find interests apart from academic studies are giving way to the hours of homework and study each night.

The issue is not primarily the intensity of the workload – it is the intensity of the whiplash we face when the messaging about our education changes so drastically between VCE and the years leading up to it.

I am keenly aware of the privilege I have, and that many other Year 12s around Victoria have vastly different circumstances. However, the pressures of VCE and the uncertainties of the future plague each student in the system, in different ways, and this means that different supports are needed.

As important as support from our parents and our educators is, we need more support from our education system – we need a system and messaging that is consistent all the way from prep to Year 12.

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