Earlier this year, a report offered some encouraging news to parents and schools who were concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on student achievement: outcomes did not go backwards.
However, since the release of that report, Australian states were again plunged into prolonged lockdown with the arrival of the pandemic’s third wave.
The Smith Family surveyed its staff from across Australia, seeking feedback from the parents or schools they support. According to the findings, more than 77% reported that students have missed learning as a direct result of COVID and/or lockdowns.
The survey also found that 75% of family support workers had seen an impact on students’ motivation to learn as a direct result of COVID and/or lockdowns.
The Smith Family CEO Doug Taylor said the survey findings have significant implications for schools that are emerging from lockdown and trying to get students back on track.
“Our survey results show that young Australians experiencing disadvantage still need all the additional support they can get to enable them to return to the classroom, catch up on missed learning, and continue to be motivated with their schoolwork,” Taylor told The Educator.
“The move to remote learning during COVID and its reliance on online resources has increased the educational gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, and highlighted the digital divide experienced by young Australians living with disadvantage.”
The survey also revealed that 87% of The Smith Family’s support workers said digital access issues are still taking a heavy toll on students.
“One in six students on our Learning for Life education support program doesn’t have access to an appropriate device with a reliable internet connection at home,” Taylor said.
“It remains particularly important that all students, no matter their circumstances, have the right resources to do their work effectively.”
Taylor said schools and communities must ensure that children who are at risk of disengaging from their studies have the right interventions and support to continue their education journey, and to catch up on any learning they missed during the last two years.
The charity is concerned there may be similar impacts from the NSW, ACT and VIC lockdowns this year.
Taylor said the charity’s frontline workers’ main concerns based on what schools and parents have told them, is that many children have missed learning, are lacking in motivation, and are at risk of disengaging from school as a result.
“During lockdowns, many experienced barriers due to learning because of digital issues. Those students who are at immediate risk of disengaging altogether need to be identified and must be given appropriate and relevant support to ensure they stay connected to learning,” he said.
“To address concerns raised during the pandemic that children experiencing disadvantage were falling behind their peers because of remote learning, we developed our Catch-Up Learning program.”
Taylor said participating students received one-on-one online tutoring with a trained teacher, up to three times a week over 20 weeks.
“Importantly, we ran these online sessions in the home so parents could become more engaged in their child’s education. This allowed them to observe learning tools and techniques demonstrated by their child’s tutor,” he explained.
“We’re seeing very promising results for students who were struggling with literacy and numeracy, with 86% of students showing above expected progress in either literacy or numeracy. A second stage pilot will run for 530 students early in 2022.”
Taylor said such programs have a key role in helping students catch up and keep up with their peers, with parental engagement playing an important part in a child’s motivation to learn.
“Schools also have a vital role to play by evaluating their own tutoring programs, and implementing programs like Catch-Up Learning, to ensure children remain engaged in their studies,” he said.
“We also welcome tutoring initiatives which are being rolled out by the NSW and Victorian governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.”
Taylor said a collective focus and effort must be put on the problem of the digital divide, which he pointed out was a problem long before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
“Given the strong link between digital inclusion, the Australian economy and the capacity of Australia’s population to participate economically, socially, and civically, The Smith Family believes there is a vital role for governments to show leadership in this area.”