How Will Staying Home Affect Kids’ Education?
Some public schools have remained open in Australia until the end of the term and will reopen in term two despite the COVID-19 threat. In most states, however, parents have been advised to keep kids at home if possible and many private schools have moved to remote learning.
NAPLAN testing has been cancelled in 2020 but the current advice is that the Victorian Certificate of Education and Higher School Certificate will proceed. It’s not clear when these exams will happen or how results will be calculated.
This is a challenging time for families as they try to cope with the uncertainty of having kids at home for an indefinite period.
How Long Will Kids Need to Stay Home?
At this point no one knows how long students will need to stay away from school. It depends on how effective social isolation is in flattening the curve. It will be some time before health officials can confirm if the virus has been contained successfully enough for normal life to resume.
Everyone wants to get back to their daily routine as quickly as possible but ending social isolation prematurely would undo all the good that’s been achieved and extend the shutdown period.
How Will This Affect Learning?
Staying away from school for only a few weeks will not have much effect on children’s education, but the longer kids miss out on class, the more significant the impact. Those with the ability and motivation to work independently are best placed to get through this with minimal disruption to learning.
Some schools are providing resources and online lessons while others are still working on their plans. Regardless of the school’s support, parents are being required to explain concepts, check understanding and find educational content to keep kids busy. This is extremely daunting for many, and they are rightly concerned their child’s education is suffering.
Julie Sonnemann from the Grattan Institute believes younger children will be most disadvantaged by missing school: “The evidence says each stage has its own challenges. When you miss certain concepts in your learning trajectory, often it impedes your learning further on. If your reading or times tables don’t get cemented early on, that creates a whole backlog of problems.”
Other educators believe those close to graduation will be more negatively impacted because, unlike younger kids, they don’t have time to catch up. All agree that the students most severely affected will be those who need specialised instruction or who don’t have internet access or the technical skills for online learning. These students will need intensive help to keep up with peers.
What Will Happen When Students Go Back?
This depends on how long kids have been advised to stay away. If minimal time has been lost, teachers will do some revision and move on. If time off is extended, which seems likely, a major revision of the curriculum will be required.
Teachers will have to focus on essentials and cut back learning in other areas. They will need to bring students up to date as quickly as possible before explaining new concepts, and this will be difficult for those who are already struggling.
According to NSW Secondary Principal’s Council acting president, Craig Petersen, one of the major questions he has fielded from parents is if children will need to repeat the year. His answer reflects the generally held view that holding students back is not possible or desirable: “My answer to that is no, because we simply can’t….We need to find the solution this year for getting through the content as best we can, focusing on what’s really core.”
What Are the Solutions Being Discussed?
Educators in Australia are hard at work coming up with solutions to fill the gaps in education caused by extended time away from school. It’s accepted that teachers will need to be more flexible with the curriculum this year and in 2021, and schools will be required to adapt to the needs of students.
Nowra high school principal Glen Kingsley offered these reassuring words for parents: “When we are back in the classroom, we will all course correct and meet them where they are. Teachers are experts at this!”
There is talk of introducing intensive programs during holidays and of targeted strategies such as one-to-one instruction and small group tutoring before and after school. Evidence shows that the smaller the group, the larger the impact, and one-to-one tutoring has the most significant positive effects.
According to former teacher Dr Jim Watterson, ‘COVID-19 will drag Australian education into the 21st century’ because schools will be forced to adapt to online education, and students will have to show more independence. It’s vital during this unsettling and unprecedented time that students receive as much support as possible to keep them motivated and inspired to learn.