Since the pandemic broke out in March 2021, we have witnessed three lockdowns and many months more of restrictions. One of the biggest impacts for young children has been on their education. And now that schools have finally reopened, and look fairly set to stay that way, maybe it’s time to consider the legacy of online learning.
The Department of Education has noted that school attendance rates have dropped to 87% in recent months, a stark comparison from the 95% rate we saw before the pandemic. While isolation, as a result of Covid cases, is responsible for a large proportion of these absences, there is more than meets the eye here. Teachers are reporting increased absences without notice nor explanation, as well as more children who simply never reappeared after restrictions were lifted.
So what problems did online learning pose? Why is it still having such an impact now?
Firstly, the disadvantages were unequally distributed. For many families, it was impossible to provide laptops and Wifi connections for every child in their family. Rather than have a solid five hours of education a day, children had to share this time with their siblings. Many could not afford the sufficient technology to facilitate online learning - and, more than that, it was difficult to visit discount stores or garner second-hand equipment during the harshest of restrictions.
Next - socialising issues. For the youngest of children, they were deprived of the most formative of classroom experiences. This means they were unable to interact with anyone except in their immediate family, losing out on the opportunity to develop their social skills and communication abilities. Speaking only on a screen limits your ability to pick up on subtle visual and auditory cues that develop young children’s understanding of human emotions.
That said, there are several advantages that arise from an increased provision of online learning. Distance learning is more popular for older students wishing to study abroad, with over 30% of graduates now learning solely through the internet. This allows for the continuation of studies in the case of illness, weather problems, travel issues, regardless of whether or not they are pandemic related. This increases the range of educational institutes available for each student, drawing global connections that could create equal opportunities regardless of your place of birth.
However, for younger children, it simply seems impossible for them to maintain their concentration and motivation across a screen. With classes often topping thirty pupils, it is impossible for teachers to monitor and pay attention to each student. That means the burden falls on parents to supervise their children’s education on a day to day level, a near-impossible feat for working parents.
Children have been left disadvantaged by the pandemic and left behind their classmates due to financial or technological problems. Yet, many schools are simply trying to catch children up rather than directly address and rectify the months worth of damage caused.
How such issues can be solved is beyond this writer’s remit, but the fact that something must be done is clear to see. If only the Department of Education shared the same sentiment.