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Virtual Learning: Perspectives of university students



Do you feel remote learning has left you feeling stressed, depressed and lonely at times? Well, we spoke to several students studying for their finals for their undergraduate and master’s degrees and you may not be alone!  

Belonging to a generation practically married to their electronic devices, the initial concept of online lectures and seminars wasn’t something that fazed many of them. “Initially, the idea of virtual learning was something that I was very excited about. It seemed like the answer to every student’s prayers, being able to study from the comfort of your own home,” explained Marwa Houdef, studying an MA in Journalism at Roehampton University. 

However, a year later, the same students who seemed excited to give virtual learning a go are now reminiscing about pre-covid times when on-campus teaching was taken for granted. “I miss what used to be my dreaded hour and a half journey into university. I also miss being able to interact with others in group work and asking questions in person,” added Miss Houdef. 

Kafi Zafar, a BSc social science graduate from UCL, reflecting on a similar journey, tells us, “I was the type of student who enjoyed [sitting] in the library with my peers and spent the day studying together. [Taking] regular breaks outside of home was something I struggled with as I felt like I lost a lot of focus at home.”

From school staff and pupils to university professors and students, we’ve all had a tough time navigating our way through remote learning, implemented to avoid further academic disruptions. Anxious students pressurised universities to make sure hands-on support was provided to students at all times. However, things did not go as smoothly as expected. “I was in the last few months of my undergraduate degree, and it felt very abrupt, […], and there was a sense of no one really knowing how to handle the situation. We weren’t prepared to move learning online, and some older staff definitely had trouble adapting,” Miss Zafar adds.  

With the global pandemic forcing authorities to shut almost everything down, including educational activities, many universities chose to continue to teach specific courses online to ensure the safety of staff and students. However, while this decision meant students would be at less risk of developing the virus, it also meant working from home and compromising on equipment and resources required for assignments. Often, students felt they’d been left alone to figure out issues regarding access to class readings and equipment to complete major assignments. Ebony Ximines Parke recounts several challenges she faced as a full-time student and mother of two. She explains: “Being [unable] to go to the library to use the equipment wasn’t great for any of us. Especially as we [weren’t] even compensated for all the things we missed out on. We still had to pay for our course and basically received a quarter of the benefits of doing a masters.” Miss Houdef also added in this regard, “Lack of communication really impacted my understanding of the assignments and overall learning. A simple miscommunication or unanswered question had such a huge impact on the quality of my work.” 

Virtual learning a negative impact on mental health?

A staggering proportion of students have felt their mental and physical health deteriorate due to virtual learning. For the most part, to stay indoors locked in one room for hours on end without a real conversation or break left students lacking the will to get work done. In one sense, knowing there isn’t anywhere to go made procrastination all the more enticing, leaving students stressing more and getting less done. “I think being at home really demotivated me, and I pretty much left a lot of my work last minute. I think that everyone’s mental health was tested due to Covid, and that also has a big part to play in how we did our assignments and the amount of energy we had to do our best,” adds Miss Parke.  

Other students said: 

“I miss the environment of being in class and being able to see people. Being a literature student, a lot of our classes used to be based on bouncing ideas off one another, and that was something I noticed we were lacking virtually.” (Munahil Nasir—BA English Literature & Creative writing student.)

“I think staying motivated was very hard, as I had university to study and focus on [in] my room at home, [a place where I would] relax and unwind.” (Kaafia Ahmad—BA Journalism student) 

“It was a struggle to separate study life from personal life because the assigned classwork had been mixed with assignments and readings. Due to the amount of work [that needed to be done], there was [hardly] any time to go out for walks for weeks. Staying indoors all the time affected my mental and physical health.” (Sarosh Ahmed—BA German Literature student, QML) 

Feeling isolated and disconnected.

Students who started their degrees during the pandemic highlighted some of the lesser mentioned problems like not being able to meet and bond with fellow students. “My class is extremely diverse, and I would have loved the opportunity to meet them all in person,” said Miss Houdef. Unfortunately, with lectures mainly conducted in online environments, most students felt shy and uncomfortable speaking up in class or switching on cameras – another issue depending on living arrangements and other personal factors. “The space to study in a suitable environment is what was more important to me. There are six of us […], so I had to sacrifice precious space to squeeze in a desk dedicated to university work,” Miss Zafar explained. 

However, by far the worst aspect of virtual learning was that students had to miss out on the social aspect that makes for a memorable university experience. The fun in meeting new people and taking part in college and society events is what every graduate lives for. Therefore, this academic year has been quite different in many ways – with social events cancelled and graduation ceremonies postponed, we have seen students silently made to sacrifice it all. 

Speaking to us about her experience, Miss Nasir commented: “I managed to experience 1.5 years of university before the pandemic. Being on campus, meeting friends for a coffee before class. All the things that I loved about university were suddenly no longer there.”

Similarly, Miss S Ahmad sharing her experience, said: “I missed the interaction with people and the casual conversations you would have with professors and classmates. Virtual learning has negatively impacted my university experience in the sense that it was very mentally straining. There was too much workload as one had to put in double the effort to understand the module content.” 

So why opt for a postgraduate degree amidst a global pandemic?

While speaking to postgraduate students, we were intrigued to know why students may have opted to go for higher studies amidst the ongoing Covid crisis. Here is what some of them said: 

“I personally chose further studies as we were unsure of how long covid would last, the job market was a mess, my BSc was very broad, and I didn’t want to feel like I wasted a year doing nothing. When I applied, I was still home on furlough, so I wasn’t even sure if or when my store would reopen and if I would have a retail job on the other side of it at all.” (Kafi Zafar)

“I wanted to master something I enjoyed, and it also would’ve been better for me to get a job with a masters backing me up. It’s getting harder and harder to get a good-paying job these days, and I wanted to really do everything I can.” (Ebony Ximines Parke)

“If it were not for the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have considered doing a masters. I knew that the job market was not likely to be hiring since most of the world was going into lockdown. I knew that postgraduate studies would keep me busy and would also benefit me in the long run. Without having continued with a postgraduate degree, I’m sure the impact of the pandemic would have been much worse on my mental health.” (Marwa Houdef) 

So as we’ve all experienced, the pandemic has affected individuals in many different ways. But it is especially saddening to see how arduous the journey of hundreds of university students has been over the past year. Figuring out how to get work done with limited support at times has made understanding simple tasks harder than ever. Though teachers have tried to support their students throughout this period of uncertainty, the fact remains that virtual learning can never make up for the experience of in-person teaching. As we gear up for covid restrictions to lift later this month, we’re hopeful that next year’s academic year may be back to normal, with students benefitting from safe face-to-face teaching and learning the way they had always imagined.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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September, schools and Covid



September is always an exciting time in English and Welsh Schools. There’s a buzz in the air. Teachers are rested and, hopefully, relaxed after a long summer break and the fragrance of hope hangs in the air. 

The September classroom is built on optimism and the alluring twinkle of potential waiting to be unleashed. The teacher often does not know the students and equally the students begin by showing their best behaviour to the new teacher, cautiously learning the expectations and boundaries of their class. Parents also begin the school year hopeful for the progress and happiness of their offspring. The days are long and often sunny, the cold, dark December days do not yet loom large on the horizon. In many ways, it is the most enchanting time of the year for those in school. The potency of possibility for all involved.

Yet, the past two years, the September start in schools has had a different feel. Gone are the days of Autumn Term 2019, the last full school year, when routines in school life ticked along as they had for decades. The Covid-19 pandemic has forever altered the psychological landscape of starting the school year. Last September, school reopened with a raft of new regulations on bubbles, hand washing, and track and trace responsibilities. Secondary school children were required to take lateral flow tests before entering their school following the lockdown that began in March 2020. Everyone was cautious. Coronavirus was still lurking around in the wider community, but there was a belief that mitigation measures would prevent or contain the spread: masks were required, isolation and bubble systems were designed to create a sense of security or, at a minimum, support. Many suspected, though perhaps did not know, that infections would sweep through schools. And indeed, they did – resulting in another national lockdown in January 2021. Another incomplete school year; another switch to online lessons.

This year the atmosphere is again different. The vaccine has been administered to over 40 million British adults, all social distancing regulations had been legally removed weeks earlier. Masks are not required, isolation rules have changed, and even international travel is beginning to return without testing and tracking and tracing obligations. So, this should feel like a normal school year perhaps? 

However, teachers, parents, and students may not feel as unfettered by concerns as the government guidelines suggest. Being a teacher on the frontline, I am acutely aware that everyone involved in school life is anxious and concerned. The first weeks of term have seen infections rise again, which are in double vaccinated adults, possibly transmitted by asymptomatic children. With no bubble bursting, it is almost impossible to accurately know where infections are starting from. Parents are not necessarily told about outbreaks and now nobody goes home. Gone are the moments when an appearance by the Head teacher ushered a raft of immediate phone calls and the herding of children into a separate room in the building. For all intents and purposes, schools can pretend Covid-19 is just another flu.

Many parents may be feeling anxious about sending children into school. Many school staff are anxious too. We are in the middle of a wait and see approach. School communities are at the forefront of testing the waters at a time when many workers remain at home and have not yet returned to working in offices in person. Nobody is certain what will happen in the next few months, especially as winter approaches – a time where colds and infections normally increase.

Nadim Zahawi, MP, recently stepped into this maelstrom as the newly appointed Secretary of State for Education. The school community are waiting to see what impact or changes he will oversee in his role. In his first major speech to educators at the NAHT annual conference, Zahawi indicated that he would put wellbeing and attendance at the centre of his policies and increase spending to ‘record’ levels. He also said, “Another key priority for me will be getting to the root of what is causing children to be persistently absent and then tackling it head on”.

That sounds like a very positive beginning. However, as recent figures show that Coronavirus infection is one of the leading causes of current absences, it is hard to know what this statement means. Will he reintroduce mitigation measures and the bubble system? Unlikely. Current measures seem to be firmly fixed. Will he give some timely guidance over next summer’s exams so that everyone can prepare in time? Not so far. With 204,000 students in England absent due to Covid in the last two weeks of September, it remains to be seen if this rhetoric will translate into meaningful action.

Teachers and students everywhere will soldier on as they always do, limping towards the July end of year. Come what may, next September schools will restart with their usual bound of optimism and hope. Only time will tell what challenges this academic year will bring. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

A teacher, mother and radio presenter. Is interested in education, equality and community relations. Currently living in London.

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To what extent are facemasks impeding children’s development and should we be worried?



Covid-19 has formed and impacted a huge part of our daily lives, from the elderly to newborn babies. The wearing of face masks to slow the transmission of the virus has been one of the most apparent changes in our lives. There are unquestionable health benefits related to the use of facemasks, however the question arises, does the use of these face coverings by children in particular have the potential to impair their development?

In early childhood development, children go through sensitive periods where language and emotional development are rapidly developing. With the mandatory wearing of face masks by these children in kindergartens, day care centres and schools, parents in particular are concerned about their health. 

Professor Kang Lee of the applied psychology and human development department at the University of Toronto has studied the development of facial recognition skills in children. He highlights three potential issues that might occur due to facemasks in the interaction of children with their classmates or teachers. 

Firstly, he mentioned that kids below the age of 12 may have difficulty recognising people, as they tend to focus on individual features of the person. Secondly, Lee pointed out potential problems with emotional recognition and social interaction. He stated “a lot of our emotional information, we display through movement of our facial musculature” and with masks, that musculature and thus the information will be obscured. The last issue Lee brought up was speech recognition. He said even though speech communication is thought of to be taking place through phonetics and sound, a large portion of the information can actually be communicated visually. Therefore, the wearing of masks has the potential to impair speech recognition in children, as they will be unable to notice the visual clues present in a conversation. 

Dr. David Lewkowicz, a senior scientist at the Haskins Laboratories and the Yale Child Study Center, has studied lip-reading in babies. He states that around the age of six to eight months, as babies start babbling, they tend to focus on the “person’s mouth” instead of on the eyes. They try to “master their own native speech, getting not only auditory cues but visual.” 

Ashley Ruba, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab has also stated that in fact being able to use others’ verbal or facial cues to figure out how someone is feeling or pick up on safe or dangerous aspects of environments and people around them is a crucial task for young kids. Masks therefore have the potential to impair children’s ability to pick up on such cues. 

However, although masks can pose potential developmental problems, many scientists have found that the gravity of such interferences, while present, are not significant – especially in the long term and do not outweigh the risk of potential death from Covid-19. 

A study was carried out by Ruba during the pandemic where she and her co-author showed more than 80 children (aged seven to 13) photographs of faces that were either unobstructed, covered by a surgical mask or wearing sunglasses. The three faces displayed emotions of sadness, anger or fear. Ruba then asked the children to assign one of six emotions to each face. The results showed that the children were correct in their responses about uncovered faces 66% of the time. With faces covered by masks, the children had trouble but were able to correctly identify sadness about 28% of the time, anger 27% and fear 18%. These percentages were higher than the odds (approximately 17%) of correctly guessing one emotion out of the total six labels. 

Considering these findings, as well as children’s innate ability to adapt to dynamic situations and surroundings, some scientists do not suspect any long-term impacts of masks on children’s development.

Dr Hugh Bases, a clinical associate professor of paediatrics at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Health is one of the experts not too concerned with the effects of mask-wearing. He states “we will quickly recover” from whatever impact mask wearing has had. 

Similarly, Amy Learmonth, a professor of psychology at William Paterson University in New Jersey said balancing the risk of someone dying from coronavirus with potentially slow social and language development in children “just doesn’t seem worth it to me … when all the evidence we have indicates that they will catch up and they will be OK”.

Dr. Lewkovicz states while “masks are not a great thing for communication in young kids”, the time children spend at home with people who are not masked will give them a chance to practice picking up the visual cues. He advises parents as well as teachers to try and “encourage their kids to communicate more through gestures,” for example via interactive games, if they are worried for their child’s development. 

 “We should give more credit to our own children,” Eva Chen, a developmental psychologist and an associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says. She adds “that being covered for a few hours every day isn’t going to make them less able to recognise social expressions.”

As such, it can be concluded that masks may have some potential developmental impacts on growing children; however, the effects can be easily recovered from and are currently not a major point of concern for various experts. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Back to school



Summer has ended and all children are now back to school. The return to routine may mean going to bed at an earlier time, finding and preparing a school bag as well as laying out one’s school uniform. Considering the last 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps students should also have a mask at the ready. 

Whether a child is starting school for the first time or is going back to another year of education, adjusting to a new routine is not always a smooth process. Symptoms of anxiety include difficulty sleeping and eating, irritability, angry outbursts, negative thoughts, and lack of confidence.

It is noteworthy that through school education, children not only develop essential academic knowledge of English, Maths, Science, and other subjects; they also develop many extensive skills that go beyond academia. It incorporates the development of various soft and social skills. 

One of the most primary and essential soft skills children develop is time management, learnt by arriving at school and lessons on time and completing a task set by the teacher within the set time frame. 

Through a combination of different lessons and activities carried out across subjects, children cultivate teamwork and communication skills. Activities that highlight different perspectives, whilst working as part of a team can involve disagreements and conflict. This is important for children as it helps them to see things from different perspectives and manage different viewpoints. In addition, teamwork promotes input from everyone to create an interactive learning atmosphere. Interactive learning also allows children to take on new roles, for instance, students who may be more shy can be encouraged to take on leadership roles, which allows growth and increased confidence. 

A study in 2014 showed that good communication is partly grown from a positive classroom environment and achievement sharing.

Education and learning have been severely impacted because of the Covid-19 pandemic; online learning and the lack of face-to-face contact has made it more challenging to understand educational material for students. 

Although, according to the latest government guidelines wearing a face mask is no longer a requirement, preventative measures can still be carried out to support safe learning environment. Teaching without a facemask allows for better interaction and communication between students and teachers. However, hygiene and safety are essential considerations in the current circumstances. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity for children and young people’s mental health and advises talking with children about ways they can stay safe at school. A preventative measure for children would be to wash hands before and after eating and reassure them that the school have established precautions to keep them safe. 

If your child does continue to use a mask, ensure it is comfortable and provide an extra one in case one gets wet or dirty during the day.

Furthermore, considering the vast changes that have happened throughout the pandemic, it is entirely normal for a child to have a mixture of emotions for the return to school. Discuss with your child any concerns, identify positive aspects, and recognise the things that you can look forward to. 

“Being prepared can really help manage anxiety. Make sure you have all uniforms, school bags ready in advance”, says Maryam Chowdhry who has worked as a parenting facilitator for 11 years.

 “Adjust your routine a few days before school starts so you are waking and sleeping at the right times. You could even do a test run and walk/drive to school the days before”.

“Keep communication open and allow them to share how they are feeling. Acknowledge any anxiety or worries they have and come up with some strategies to help address them in advance. For example, if your child is worried about not liking the lunches, go out and choose some packed lunch items together. Make sure you don’t pass on any of your own anxieties and only share your positive thoughts and feelings.”

In addition, support your children to understand any changes in their classroom set up, daily schedule and peer groups. In terms of children of younger age groups, providing visual aid can facilitate understanding. Therefore, requesting schools to send any images can help to make things feel more familiar. 

The Mental Health Foundation has suggested coping strategies to handle stress. This includes speaking with family or friends, as well as practising breathing techniques and carrying out regular exercise. 

Also, children should focus on the present and the matters within their control, such as washing hands regularly and wearing a mask. Encourage children to stay positive and support them not to stress and overthink about things they cannot control, such as what might happen in the pandemic several months later.

“Arrange some play sessions with other children from your child’s class so they can make friendships and recognise some familiar faces on their first day back” and “teachers can arrange for visits prior to the actual start date,” advises Mariam Chowdhry.

If a child has additional physical or special educational needs, the NHS provides guidance on the importance talking to them about the situation and plan activities that they enjoy and it could help them to feel better. If changes occur in guidelines, e.g. regarding facemasks, testing, and group sizes; a beneficial approach could include requesting your child’s education provider for detailed information with photos or videos on what to expect. These resources can be used to explain what has happened and why to your child 

Looking ahead, it is important to understand and communicate changes with your child and enjoy the year of education ahead!

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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How are educational institutions preparing to welcome back students for a new school year, despite Covid concerns?



As many students prepare for the upcoming school year, there are concerns over how children can transition smoothly back into physical school learning.

Students have undergone many adversities due to the pandemic. Missed graduations, parties and school events have left students longing for a return to normality. Online learning is not suitable for everyone since countless students learn better physically in an environment surrounded by fellow peers and teachers. Finding ways to cope with this change, has raised awareness on mental health issues and the needs of students. 20% of college students say that their mental health has worsened due to the pandemic. With the new school season approaching, feelings of anxiety have risen as schools desperately try to figure out a way to help return students settle into school life. 

With the Delta variant continuing to sweep its way across the globe, and restrictions loosening, it raises the question of how schools will ensure the maximum safety of students, as they transition from an online environment into in-person learning. In Canada, many universities have made changes to the way they handle the pandemic. The University of Ottawa has announced that to be on campus, faculty, staff and pupils must be fully vaccinated to limit the spread of the virus and its variants. Following this decision, other universities such as the University of Guelph and Queen’s University have followed in their footsteps. In addition to this, proof of vaccination and rapid testing sites have been added on campuses. More human interaction amongst peers on campus is encouraged this year. With the right precautions in place, students and employees can return to classrooms. 

How will children attending secondary school be protected against the virus if those under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine? As more and more research on the side- effects of the vaccine emerges, more data is arriving from Pfizer and Moderna. In Canada, Pfizer hopes to submit data from the trials by the end of the year. Currently testing in phases two and three, Pfizer is testing the safety, sufficiency, and resistance for those who are aged 5-11, and in children aged six months to five years. However, restrictions have become more lenient as more of the world’s population continues to get vaccinated. Research shows that if people do not get vaccinated, more variants will arise. With relaxed rules on social distancing and masks, parents are worried about sending their children back to school. Even though students will return to schools in the fall, Covid precautions will still be followed. In Scotland, staff and students will continue to wear face masks and maintain three feet from each other while on school property. While implementing regular hand washing, sanitizing and usage of face masks, children who are not vaccinated because they are not eligible, will have to continue to safely learn from a distance. With flexible rules, the UK government encourages the usage of face masks even if it is not required by law. However, if cases continue to rise and you are in crowded indoor places, masks are highly recommended. 
While the rules will differ from country to country, Canadian educational boards have a system in place to ensure the well-being of students and staff. However, the biggest challenge that remains is to limit the spread of the virus as more mutations occur in different countries. For example, in Florida, 440 students already need to quarantine due to the virus, just two days after school began. Even though students have the option to opt-out of in-person learning in Canadian universities as some schools have made masks mandatory, cases have sprung up regardless of the health precautions taken. Therefore, this proves that it is necessary to constantly protect yourself and others from the virus by getting vaccinated and continuing to practice proper hygiene and social distancing. If done so, hopefully, students will not have to shift constantly from in-person to online learning.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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A-Levels: What the results show



There’s nothing else quite like it. The anticipation, the nerves, the inability to sleep. Watching the clock, as time seems to slow down to a snail’s pace and no amount of effort can distract you from the looming arrival of results. And that’s just the parents. England let out a sigh of relief on Tuesday, as A-Level and BTEC results were released after anxious months of waiting.

To begin with, it should be acknowledged that this cohort of students have faced challenges unlike any other in England. They have had two years of disrupted, disjointed courses and that any of them could manage to scrape together the wherewithal to complete the two years, is a great testament to their resilience and tenacity. Those of us who are parents or school staff will know only too well the physical and mental strength these students have needed. In the face of a global pandemic, bursting bubbles and online lessons for months on end, these students have done themselves proud. Similarly, teachers have had to commit long and grueling hours to completing Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs), which were introduced with limited notice and ambiguous guidelines. These teachers deserve our thanks. Whatever the results, the effort of both staff and students in getting to the end of this academic route should be acknowledged. Congratulations.

Yet, the results do reveal a lot about the state of education in England today. Behind the headlines of record pass levels – 44.8% of all grades were A* or A – lies another layer of analysis which should not be ignored.

First, there was a huge disparity between Independent and State school results. 70.9% of all Independent School results were A* or A compared to 39% at comprehensive schools. That’s not far from double the difference in outcomes for students. Many commentators may use this data to draw attention to the unfairness of having private fee-paying schools in the education system. Yet, in reality this argument draws focus away from the government and draws it towards the wealthy. Rather than bemoaning the privilege of the economically advantaged, we should instead ask why the government allows the continual underfunding of its own schools. Why are they prepared to freeze teacher pay, and remove additional funding from the most economically disadvantaged children in the middle of a health crisis? Even worse than the errors in guidance which were changed silently hoping no-one would notice, was the little promoted decision not to bother with promised mental health training for education staff to support primary children at a time when mental ill-health is on the rise.

These A-Level and BTEC results don’t expose the inequality of opportunity; they expose how little investment state schools receive, and how little this government is prepared to invest in the future of this nation’s children. 

A second trend from this year’s results is that girls did better overall in all subjects (apart from Modern Foreign Languages and performing/expressive arts) than boys. The conclusion drawn by the Education Policy Institute is that as boys tend to do well from high-stakes final exams, girls were advantaged by Teacher Assesses Grades which could draw on a range of evidence. This begs the question: is the current system fairly accounting for all abilities or is it catering to a specific skill set? Are girls disadvantaged by the current exam system? If so, what will be done to change this? In previous years, coursework has been scrapped due to suspected teacher bias in marking and teaching. Yet, this year’s cohort will have been subject to the same suspicions but are making their way to further education nonetheless. Are exam-only, no module, no coursework exams the best way to assess our students? Is this the moment when alternatives could be considered? 

Lastly, existing gaps based on ethnicity have widened. A government report found that ‘the longstanding gaps indicating lower outcomes of Black African, Black Caribbean, mixed white and Black Caribbean, and mixed other candidates relative to prior-attainment-matched white British candidates have widened by between 1.88 and 2.04 percentage points’ This is further evidence that the current system is not meeting the needs of all pupils, that some groups continue to perform at levels lower than their peers. Clearly whatever steps have been taken to address this issue have not had an impact on grades. Perhaps for this group, exam only grades remove teacher bias in the marking system but it is clear that there should be some discussion around addressing this inequality.

So, congratulations to all students and educators – and the families who supported them through online lessons listened with half an ear, missed deadlines, burst bubbles, lateral flow tests and all the uncertainty of a disrupted two academic years. May your future shine brightly and may you never have to learn or teach in such circumstances again.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

A teacher, mother and radio presenter. Is interested in education, equality and community relations. Currently living in London.

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The Death Penalty: An Unjust Practice?



Why do we punish people? Some argue that justice is met only when the punishment fits the crime — an “eye for an eye,” a death for a death. Among the many theories supporting the death penalty, the notion of retribution is perhaps the most common one. A retributivist would say that punishment is justified by the simple moral fact that culpable wrongdoers deserve it. A retributivist believes that justice is served by punishing the guilty and thus, the desert of an offender not only gives the state the right to punish him but also the duty to do so. Supporters of the death penalty also claim that it deters criminals from committing certain felonies — this is the utilitarian perspective. However, research points to a different observation. Some studies have concluded that executions actually increase homicides while others say that executions do not affect murder rates at all. In reality, the death penalty is not a more effective deterrent nor does its existence prevent criminals from acting.

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. The sentence ordering that someone is punished with the death penalty is called a death sentence, and the act of carrying out such a sentence is known as an execution. A prisoner awaiting their execution is condemned and is “on death row.” Every day, people around the world are executed and sentenced to death by the state as punishment for a variety of crimes — some of which are arbitrary. Aside from Belarus and Russia, all European countries have abolished the death penalty. In 1998, Canada abolished the death penalty. 27 states in the US still authorise capital punishment. 

In the US in 2020, 17 people were executed, and 18 death sentences were imposed. As of 30th June 2021, five prisoners have been executed in the US by the US federal government and one state this year. There are 2,591 people on death row in the United States as of 16th December 2020. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, states have executed 1,532 people (as of March 2021). Since 1973, there have been 185 death row exonerations (as of March 2021). 

Public opinion on the death penalty varies considerably by country and by the crime in question. In Norway – one of the countries that a majority of the population is against execution – only about 25% are in favor of the death penalty. A 2020 Gallup poll shows that 55% of Americans support the death penalty for an individual convicted of murder, down from 65% in 2006, and 68% in 2001 — a clear indication of a gradual decline in public approval of capital punishment. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a non-profit organisation based in Washington, DC that focuses on disseminating studies and reports related to the death penalty, more than 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white. In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. In 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.

Many leading organisations that oppose and fight to abolish the death penalty – including Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) –  hold the view that capital punishment: “inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law.” Ngozi Ndulue, DPIC’s Senior Director of Research and Special Projects and the lead author of the recent report “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” has said that: 

“The death penalty has been used to enforce racial hierarchies throughout United States history, beginning with the colonial period and continuing to this day. Its discriminatory presence as the apex punishment in the American legal system legitimizes all other harsh and discriminatory punishments. That is why the death penalty must be part of any discussion of police reform, prosecutorial accountability, reversing mass incarceration, and the criminal legal system as a whole.” 

Although there is no way to tell whether a defendant was innocent, wrongful convictions statistically must occur as no system is ever infallible. A National Academy of Sciences study released in 2014 found that approximately four percent of death row inmates are innocent. By that math, in 2014, as many as 30 of the 737 prisoners awaiting execution in California were wrongly convicted. Is it ever justifiable to execute even one innocent person? The price of capital punishment goes far beyond taxes and a dollar amount, with wrongful executions still a huge risk factor, especially considering the disproportionate rate at which minorities and people of color are sentenced to death. Nevertheless, “studies have consistently found that a system of criminal law in which the death penalty is available as a punishment is far more expensive than a system in which the most severe punishment is life without parole or a long prison term.” 

The average cost of defending a trial in a federal capital punishment case is $620,932, about eight times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought. A study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “The Budgetary Repercussions of Capital Convictions,” by Katherine Baicker, found that: “those defendants whose representation was the least expensive, and thus who received the least amount of attorney and expert time, had an increased probability of receiving a death sentence.” Moreover, capital cases burden county budgets with large and unexpected costs. “Counties manage these high costs by decreasing funding for highways and police and by increasing taxes. The report estimates that between 1982-1997 the extra cost of capital trials was $1.6 billion.”

Is there truly a difference between retribution and revenge? Does revenge justify capital punishment? No, it does not, nor should it. Indeed, no system is always fair, but years of evidence and statistical findings have shown that capital punishment is an inherently flawed institution. With black and brown men disproportionately sentenced to death for the same crime their white counterparts are given lower sentences for, with the fact that, in the US alone, 130 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973, it is quite difficult to argue otherwise. During its final week in office, the Trump administration carried out its 13th execution, an unprecedented event that concluded just five days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who opposes the federal death penalty. In 2020, President Biden had announced that he no longer supported capital punishment and pledged to push for legislation to eliminate it at the federal level and incentivise states to do the same. As per his promise, President Biden’s Justice Department has ordered a moratorium, a pause in federal executions, on carrying out federal death sentences after the surge in executions under the Trump administration. Like most grassroots movements that have changed the trajectory of government policies and social norms, the future of the death penalty is heavily dependent upon public opinion and the shifted perspective of educated individuals on the subject is an obvious signal of a potential reform on capital punishment.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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