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Revealed: Impact of the pandemic on teenagers’ school and home

Concern has been expressed about a potential deficit in youth group leaders – and over gaps in Israel knowledge among the young – following groundbreaking research into the pandemic’s impact on teenagers.

“Jewish Lives Interrupted” was carried out by Dr Helena Miller, senior research fellow at LSJS, with Dr Alex Pomson of Rosov Consulting in Jerusalem. The research – whose results are set to affect policy in the community for years – revealed overwhelmingly negative feelings towards home learning and sparked particular concern for the future of engagement with Israel.

The survey focuses on pupils from Year 9 (13 and 14-year-olds), Year 12 (16 and 17-year-olds), and Year 13 (17 and 18-year-olds) from eight schools: Hasmonean Boys, Hasmonean Girls, Immanuel College, JCoss, JFS, Kantor King Solomon, Yavneh College, (all London) and King David Schools in Manchester. More than 1350 students — 50 per cent of the total cohort — responded and these findings were augmented by 17 focus groups, in which 117 students took part.

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Two-thirds of students (68 percent of Year 9 and 66 percent of Year 12-13) felt remote schooling had set back their education significantly; and Dr Miller noted that even those whose engagement depended completely on remote schooling were also dependent on “decent technology” — not always possible in families where each family member was using broadband.

Students complained that “there’s not much separation between school and home”. And “a year on from the pandemic’s outbreak, survey respondents were pessimistic and frustrated. When invited to answer an open-ended question about remote learning, 58 posted positive comments and 346 posted negative ones. The students blame themselves for this situation, they blame the pandemic and they blame the education system”.

Focus group data revealed that a central issue with home learning was “the feeling of being isolated from teachers and friends. It was harder to access academic support and it was harder to maintain the social relationships that are such an important dimension of the school experience”. One of the striking findings about the impact on family life was how much grandchildren — particularly the Year 9 students — missed their grandparents.

Pupils who had missed their bar or bat mitzvahs were sorry about it — but some said that being forced to hold a small celebration, restricted to 30 people, was actually much nicer than a huge party. Around a quarter of the students had not been able to attend a Seder.

Miller said the survey’s conclusion was that “families who have less religious capital were made [by the pandemic] less able to get on with Jewish life on their own”. One Year 12 student noted: “For me I found that a lot of my Jewish identity relies on my family. So, by myself, I probably wouldn’t do a lot, the way that I would with my family. So with my grandparents and going to their house on Saturday, I know it would be compulsory to pray and eat foods and drink … And that was taken away, because obviously I couldn’t go to their house. I couldn’t go to the Seder and see my cousins. So I felt like I really wasn’t practicing. I forgot how to bensch, and that hasn’t ever been a problem to me.”

Israel Tour 2019!

Those students who had missed out on tour, on the whole, did not want the option of access to an Israel tour in their next year of secondary school, instead preferring to explore other options. Those who had missed a trip to Poland, however, did want to try again.

Miller, who said the survey had uncovered “a huge level of anxiety on the part of young people”, said the findings had significant things to say to those planning for the future of the community. Very few people, for example, missed going to shul, one student remarking that “I’ve replaced it [shul] with sleep”.

The report – for which interviews were carried out by Dr Beverly Copitch – expresses concern about the disinclination of students to go on tour once their own cohort’s tour had been cancelled: “The longer-term implications of this dampening of enthusiasm are potentially serious, especially as many activities in summer 2021 have also been curtailed. Other data suggests that Israel tours in particular, help to create a new group of youth movement leaders every year, who go on to run activities in subsequent years.

“However, the youth movement leadership life cycle is short – typically no more than about five years – so a failure to feed the leadership pool for two consecutive years will inevitably affect both the quality and quantity of community youth activities going forward. Furthermore, beyond this structural issue, one also has to consider the implications of two cohorts of students missing out on the educational components of the Israel summer tours. These young people have forgone one of the most important opportunities to engage seriously with questions about the place of Israel in their lives, with all the knock-on implications that has for the future.”

The survey was conducted in April and May 2021.The year groups were chosen because they each represented a particular point of Jewish life. The youngest would have expected to celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah; the middle group would normally have gone on Israel tour and the oldest would either be signing up for a trip to Poland or planning their gap year, often in Israel.

The report notes that “overall, just over a third of the respondents identified as Orthodox, and just under a third as ‘just Jewish’, but all the Jewish religious denominations were represented.

In terms of being directed affected by Covid, by the time they answered the survey, 60 per cent of respondents had undergone at least one period of self-isolation, 30 per cent had close family members who had been ill with Covid-19 and 18 per cent had been unwell with themselves. A minority of students indicated that their families had suffered economically during this period (13 per cent), whilst a higher percentage reported that they had suffered from the death of a close relative or a family friend (30 per cent).

Source: Jewish News

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