We are facing yet another school lockdown with an indefinite end and students will continue to suffer academically, mentally, and socially. There is emerging research on the specific effects of school closures on students. Can you tell us a bit about these findings?
A large-scale study coming out of the Netherlands evaluated the effects of school closures on primary school performance.This study was unusual because of its exceptionally rich data of 350’000 students. Their national examinations took place before and after the lockdown and the researchers could thus compare the data to the previous three years. They found a learning loss equivalent to 1/5 of school year, the same period as schools remained closed. Importantly, the losses were up to 60% larger for students from less-educated homes. In addition, teachers struggled to adopt online-based instruction, let alone a system of assessment and accountability. Students experienced a drop in course work completed and also spent less time studying overall. The study’s findings imply that even in a ‘best case scenario’ like the Netherlands, with a relatively short lockdown, equitable school funding, and world-leading broad-band access, little to no learning progress was made. You can find the complete study “Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic” here.
What have been some findings reported in the U.S. and Canada?
One Ontario study extrapolated that students fell behind up to 3 1/2 months, with lower performing students falling as much as a year and a half behind. Administrators report that there is a significant number of students who have never even logged on to remote learning, spending their time during lockdowns without any schooling at all. In the U.S., it is estimated that 1.7 million to 3.3 million 8-12 graders could drop out of school completely due to the pandemic based on links between absenteeism and graduation. These are just some of the findings and are only related to the academic impact of pandemic schooling. Mental and social well-being have been critically affected and experienced by most students and will carry over into their academic performance as well. Students have been deprived of their ‘social oxygen’ and are not just hanging in an academic limbo but are also in a relationship wasteland.
Why do homeschoolers, who after all also learn from home and some even in online programs, not experience these negative academic effects?
For students in the public system, there has been no constant during pandemic schooling. They have essentially been ‘learning in limbo’. Educators know that learning takes consistency, predictability, a regular rhythm with a solid curriculum that remains unaffected by constant interruptions. Homeschoolers have been able to continue with their learning uninterrupted and had the advantage of familiarity with learning in a home setting. In addition, face-to-face contact with an instructor is considered of great importance, especially by younger students, in order to learn well. Having an instructor nearby, who cares and shows students they matter, can make a significant difference to student involvement. Students are more likely to persist in something that is challenging if the person who teaches them is invested in them. The parent- student dynamic provides this crucial care and investment that is lacking for many public school students during pandemic distance schooling.