How online learning in 2020 affected our kids

Reports on the impact of remote learning during 2020 show a range of outcomes - some positive, some negative and some just plain surprising.

First, for the bad news. A report by the NSW Education Department found children in Year 3 were up to four months behind in their reading scores.

Year 9s  were two-to-three months behind in numeracy.

In Victoria - where the lockdown lasted longer - children in low socioeconomic families and remote communities lost out across the board, according to research by the Grattan Institute.

But it was on the measure of wellbeing that remote learning really took its toll on kids and their families. 

2019 v. 2020

The NSW study used student achievement data from 2019 as a benchmark to measure the impact of pandemic-driven interruptions to normal schooling.

The sample included over 3000 primary students from 97 schools, and researchers were careful to compare like with like, with regard to factors like socioeconomic advantage.

Maths results were impacted negatively for kids from disadvantaged schools. No surprises there. But students in “mid-range” schools actually did better with remote learning, showing two months’ more progress than their counterparts in 2019.

A surprising big picture 

Apart from these small-group differences, scores for both literacy and numeracy averaged out over the two time periods. Conclusion: Remote learning made no measurable difference compared to classroom learning.

And that was a big surprise.

“Our study provides a counter-narrative to widespread concern about how much students fell behind during the remote learning period,” researchers reported. 

“Indeed, the results are cause for celebration. Most students are, academically, where they are expected to be."

“Indeed, the results are cause for celebration. Most students are, academically, where they are expected to be” - with the small but significant exception of kids from disadvantaged groups.

Beyond achievement

But academic achievement is only one measure of educational “success,” and a limited one at that. On the broader measure of student wellbeing, the study uncovered what most parents had already discovered for themselves: that online learning  was the source of “significant stress, anxiety and frustration in many families.” 

From frustration with technology and anxiety about grades, to the loss of normal social life, students faced a variety of stresses that, for many,  felt insurmountable - even for those without pre-existing mental health problems.

At the same time, the increased screen-time associated with remote learning made kids more vulnerable to online wellbeing risks, including cyberbullying, sexting and targeting by predators, while disrupting healthy sleep patterns.

And wellbeing issues continued even after the return of classroom learning. As one principal noted, “We’ve got massive amounts of anxiety in our students. From physical behaviour, oppositional behaviours, kids not wanting to come to school. They’re melting down …”  

At the same time, the increased screen-time associated with remote learning made kids more vulnerable to online wellbeing risks, including cyberbullying, sexting and targeting by predators, while disrupting healthy sleep patterns.

The wellbeing of teachers and administrators also suffered, as workloads expanded and morale tumbled. 

Positive lessons

Yet other observers have taken a longer view of the enforced experiment in remote learning, and have found positive lessons for the future. 

“Yes, remote learning was difficult and frustrating. But COVID-19 showed many of us we can learn together, and from each other, in a way we weren’t doing previously,” notes Kate Noble, a policy fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University.

“Schools and educators can build on this experience by strengthening communication with parents, and consider involving them in some learning activities.”shutterstock_1786690910

Thankfully  the crisis is - at least for the moment - behind us, but deeper community involvement in kids’ education doesn’t have to be. 

She advocates parents setting aside regular time to support their children’s learning at home. For their part, employers could consider allowing a portion of carer’s leave to allow mums and dads the freedom to b e more involved.

And finally, says Noble, schools need to be more proactive in engaging families with disadvantage - “because children’s educational opportunities are determined as much by what happens at home as what happens in the classroom.”

 

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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, Education, online learning, remote learning, pandemic

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