In Australia the school year is just coming to an end – yet the usual fun and celebration of graduation ceremonies are almost certainly going to be a casualty of Covid-19.
Yet if any cohort deserves the tears and cheers of a full ceremony, it’s this year’s Year 12s. This is true not just of Australia but around the world.
Of course, some may already be starting their university journey now, having already received their grades, while others are still weighing up their options.
And the wheels of education never slow, which means another group are following fast on their heels facing their final years of secondary education against a backdrop of such uncertainty.
The coronavirus generation
Whatever the situation, I think we would do well to look back and reflect on just how much this generation has gone through.
This year, of course, coronavirus has wreaked havoc on school – not least on those in their exams years, depriving them of some of their most significant year of learning and locking them out of classrooms when they needed friends, teachers and stability most.
But, in truth, crisis has long been "the new normal" for the Class of 2020.
Crisis after crisis
This is a generation who were born in the wake of 9/11 and started their educational journey in the shadow of the global financial crisis.
Theirs has been the age of terrorism, climate change, racial violence and frightening political vitriol.
Now they finish their schooling in the midst of a pandemic that looks set to claim 1 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.
Respect where it's due
Before I’m 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.
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-19 proved that we’d do well to stop, listen and start following their example.
Through the wringer
Want to see resilience? Talk to a young person who has sat a calculus 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 protests and Covid-19 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 the world.
Because through it all they have simply got on with learning to learn.
All in this together
So, while we’ve patted teachers and parents on the back, there should also be a standing ovation for the Class of 2020.
After all they’ve been through, they have finally reached the finish line.
And the new set of Year 12s coming through, they are every bit as strong, resilient and capable, so let’s give them our best as we guide them through another academic year that will no doubt bring yet more trials and tribulations.
They’ll be ready, so we should be, too.
Allan Dougan is global head of education at 3PLearning.com (the name behind online learning programs such as Mathletics and Reading Eggs). He is also a former school principal in Scotland