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Friday, June 18, 2021

Concerns as COVID-19 reveals learning gaps

COVID-19 has brought about disruption on a global scale, and this disruption has been keenly felt in classrooms across the country, as well as here in the ACT, as shutdowns required students to learn from home.

There are concerns that students across the country are facing gaps in their learning, particularly with regards to foundational skills like literacy, numeracy and writing, which has been further impacted by the pandemic.

“The greatest concern is around younger students, so primary years or the earlier years of secondary school,” says education expert Dr Selina Samuels, Chief Learning Officer at Cluey Learning.

“The gaps that emerge there have a greater impact down the line,” she says.

Dr Samuels says while COVID-19 has made teaching and learning more difficult, for some students it has revealed academic disadvantage that was already present before the pandemic.

“I think that it’s one of those things where the impact of something like COVID will show up slowly over time, which is why some intervention is probably wise as early as possible. 

“I take some comfort from the fact that there’s been a lot of focus placed on this issue now,” she says.

“In many ways, there is a great opportunity to provide the support that’s needed.” 

A report from the Grattan Insitute looked at the effects of COVID-19 on education and found students who were already falling behind before the pandemic will have “slipped further back” and would be likely to have learnt at around 50% of their regular rate while at home.

“We find the achievement gap widens at triple the rate in remote schooling compared to regular class,” the report reads.

The Grattan Insitute recommended an expansion of numeracy and literacy programs in schools, as well as investment in small-group tuition programs for disadvantaged students.

Dr Samuels says students who are struggling will often lack confidence and avoid situations where those struggles might be amplified. She says additional structured support outside of the classroom could help students to catch up.

“I think we have to assume, as educators, that they need the support, and provide the support rather than wait for some of the more serious problems to emerge,” she says.

“I think we need to have an honest conversation about what’s actually practical, because teachers have had an incredibly stressful year, and I don’t think we should be looking at the classroom to solve everything; I think that’s unrealistic.”

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