How did education change during the pandemic? [INFOGRAPHICS]
Global pandemics are a relatively new phenomenon. While diseases have been known to sweep across entire continents, a global outbreak was never really possible without advanced technology.
Given a global travel and trading network, COVID19 managed to spread across the planet in just a few short months. The advancement in information technology allowed its effects to be documented in detail, both by amateurs and professional news sources. HD round the clock coverage both alleviated fears and stoked them.
Of course, people working in education and their students are especially vulnerable. Classrooms of any kind can act as transmission mediums for disease, given that they pack together dozens of people every day.
To mitigate the virus’s spread and flatten the curve, schools worldwide have closed down temporarily. In both the US and the rest of the world, this closure threatens to affect struggling communities disproportionately.
As educators from across the nation attempt to find new and innovative solutions for unprecedented problems, the whole country holds its breath in anticipation.
The system does have its vulnerabilities, yet technology and internet learning help with the shutdown problems. The following article discussed the education system’s current situation and how it was affected by the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent school shutdown.
What we know for sure
At the pandemic’s highest point, somewhere around 55 million US children were kept from school to spare them the risk of catching the novel disease. This situation led to an irreplaceable loss in education progress and other social activities such as chess clubs, playing, and sports.
The issue is that the education system is fundamentally unsuited for this type of situation. The economy was also poorly prepared for this pandemic.
An uncomfortable truth that everyone knows yet nobody mentions is that the economy has come to rely on educators to act as part-time parents, taking children and freeing up their parents for work. While the official rhetoric rarely mentions this practical purpose, the school system is also a day-care program.
This arrangement has become such a pillar of modern life that many people had to cash in all of their sick days and vacation days to stay home. It is unknown if the economy as a whole will suffer, or just the individual parents. Many parents need to either change jobs or sacrifice some of their earnings for a nanny.
Socio-economic pragmatism aside, it is without a doubt that students’ academic progress is stagnant or degraded. Even previously, well-performing students are not spared from this decline.
Current benchmark data can help predict a future decline.
Data is useless without a reference point. Thankfully, a benchmark can take shape by looking at the US and intentional numbers regarding education. Although it is not extremely precise, a data amalgam from PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment) has estimated how much your average student can learn in a year. The subjects targeted were science, reading, and math.
Scores from the beginning of the school year were compared to those at its end. The differences were represented in standard deviations. The average performance level dictates that a child should improve performance at a rate of 0.3, 0.5, or 0.7 standard deviations yearly. These numbers also depend on the subject itself, yet this standard can outline the progression.
The 2019-2020 school year was very short, so a loss in student performance is expected. It depends on the place in question and the efficiency of the online course substitute. However, it can be safely said that the year was cut by at least a third for most people.
The data would suggest a minimum drop in performance of 0.1 standard deviations regardless of subject, in all years and grades.
The time investment and return on performance
A direct correlation was found between the time spent at school ( assuming quality education is received) and students’ overall performance. It is yet unknown how a shortened school day or a 3-4 day school week will affect performance, even when other negative factors were mitigated.
The support for these conclusions comes from a study by Ozek, Figlio, and Holden in 2018. They found that if you were to increase the study period by one hour every day to facilitate literacy instruction, reading performance would increase. As predicted, it did improve, by a margin of 0.05 standard deviation. Still, this result is far from conclusive as correlation does not always equal causation.
First, the findings were only from one student category: elementary school pupils. Maybe their age allowed them to adapt to the more extended schedule, while an adolescent might tire and suffer from exhaustion due to a prolonged school program.
Regardless, if the study is right and performance improves with more time investment, the longer you stay out of school, the Coronavirus crisis will cause a drop in performance.
Other studies show that even minor school shutdowns can lead to a drop in grades. In areas where classes were canceled due to bad weather, children perform worse on tests.
Where a reduced school week was adopted in Oregon schools, a 0.03-0.05 standard deviation drop existed. Districts that did not adopt this shortened period did not see the same decline.
It almost seems too simple: by increasing the time spent learning, you get better results. Yet, this does not consider the quality of the education or the student’s long-term retention.
It may be possible that the current system just prepared pupils to be better at passing tests, encouraging a short-term memorization competition that lasts 12 years.
Regardless, if we were to take these findings at face value, 4-day school weeks would be highly damaging. Yet, it can be possible to compensate by extending the length of the school year itself.
Volatile summer learning gains and losses.
Students from different socioeconomic stratum are affected differently by their summer breaks. The phenomenon is so prevalent that it was dubbed the “summer learning loss” or the “slide.”
What is strange is that this degradation in knowledge is only seen in low-income students. Those students who come from more financially-stable backgrounds either stay the same or slightly improve during the summer. This conclusion resulted from earlier studies back in the 1980s.
Modern studies seem to be more random in their findings. Some researchers find declines, while others report no changes. Yet it is universally agreed that the gap between students of different means is widening and consolidating.
It is uncertain if the children from lower socio-economic status know less than their counterparts. Most researchers assume that the curriculum needs to be tailored to suit their specific needs.
Losses during summer are expected during a typical year, but this is not an average year. The compound effect of intermittent lockdowns, summer breaks, and remote learning has yet to be fully felt.
The ties between emotional engagement and school absenteeism
There seems to be a strong tie between school absenteeism and a drop in performance. This problem is not due to solely missing out on the knowledge taught that day. Missing repeated school days can further weaken the already precarious emotional bond that a student feels towards his life as a pupil.
Evans and Allensworth used statistics from Chicago’s public school system in 2016. The found a positive correlation between the rate of absenteeism and a failure to graduate high school.
Every week that a student missed classes, his chances of graduating high school dropped by 20%. For every day lost, the loss in knowledge grew in direct proportion:
- 1-2 days- 0.10 standard deviation loss
- 3-4 days- 0.29 standard deviation loss
- Ten days- 0.39 standard deviation loss
- More than ten days- 0.64 standard deviation loss
The source of this data is from the 2015 NAEP math assessment.
If these findings are correct, the conclusion is gruesome. Students are hemorrhaging knowledge for every day they are not in school because of the pandemic.
Still, these conclusions have to be filtered by reason. After all, correlation does not equal causation.
Did the absenteeism cause a lack of interest, or did the lack of interest cause absenteeism? Issues like these are wildly complex, and merely skimming some data off the top is not enough to draw valid conclusions.
To further increase doubt regarding this correlation, absentee students also exhibit behavioral problems. Sure, you can blame low grades on missing a few days of school, but that won’t make you disobedient. It may be that researchers are putting the horse before the cart.
Still, at the moment, these stats are the best source of information we have at our disposal. We do not know if remote learning is even comparable to missing school time entirely.
Moving to the web
An increasing number of children are spending more and more time online. PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment) data suggests that most of this time is spent on social media and leisure activities, rather than an active extracurricular pursuit of knowledge.
Learning how to learn is a skill. Students are used to using their devices for leisure. Now they have to make a shift and attempt to learn via this medium.
Both children and adults benefit from dedicated spaces. When attempting to pursue an activity, it is optimal to remove all distractions. It is not ideal for teaching children through the most distracting medium imaginable. This device contains all their favorite games, networks, YouTube, and more. And it is not viable for a teacher to police the screens and browser tabs of each student.
Also, most planning simply assumes universal device ownership. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has found that 16% of students in the 8th grade do not own a desktop PC or a laptop.
When it comes to internet access, the situation is better. Only 4.2% of students lack any form of internet access.
There is also a lack of detail in the questioning. The survey does not specify the quality of the connection, which devices must be shared with parents for their specific work purposes.
Online teaching can also suffer from horrible student/teacher ratios and a lack of engagement due to missing one-on-one instruction. All nuance and personality are missing from this medium.
The infrastructure is simply not ready for a pandemic of this size.
Why is Homeschooling successful, yet pandemic online learning is not?
For a myriad of reasons, some parents choose to homeschool their children. This is objectively a superior method, considering the statistical advantage that homeschooled students have.
In 14 major studies on the topic, eleven found a positive correlation between this method and increased grades. The difference also varied depending on the survey.
The smallest was a measly 0.05 standard deviation increase, to an impressive 1.13 standard deviation increase.
So, why is there such an improvement? The answer is obvious: a personal touch. In homeschooling, a family member is a teacher, and he/she focuses his/her entire attention on one or two students.
This represents a vast increase in resources, time, and dedication, all aimed at a single person. Of course, it will result in higher test scores and overall competence. Smaller classrooms obtain almost the same results as homeschooling, due to their similar narrow focus on a small number of students.
Impact on higher education
A similar decrease in performance can also be observed in college students, yet it is not as pronounced as in elementary and high school pupils. Older students are generally more resourceful and disciplined, with an increased ability to learn from online sources.
University schedules are also more diverse, capable of better adapting to the current pandemic.
Another enlightening study
The coming of summer has brought with it some much-needed relief for educators. Yet, instead of resting, teachers analyze the data and gather their resources for what will undoubtedly be hard autumn and winter. It is an opportunity to look back at the previous semester and measure most emergency measures’ success.
Educators are definitely in uncharted waters, given a situation that almost nobody in history has experienced before.
The AEP ( American Educator Panel) has collected relevant data to bring some perspective regarding the current crisis. They conducted a study among American educators during April and May, interviewing around 1000 principals and 1000 teachers. They were consulted regarding the challenges of the pandemic and how it affected their jobs.
The RAND corporation survey has only targeted K-12 educators during the epicenter of the pandemic. Their findings and sample size are considered to be representative of the entire nation. Here are the most relevant conclusions which can be drawn from the results:
Distance learning can be sub-optimal
Most teachers surveyed reported the need for distance learning via the Internet. However, it seems that this practice cannot replace a standard in-person education method. Out of all the interviewed educators, only 12% reported finishing their entire subject for the semester.
It is unclear if the latency is caused by the fact that they are using a new method and need time to adjust, or that the former curriculum is suboptimal for a non-classroom environment. Either way, lesson plans need to be changed and adapted to suit the post-Corona education system.
On the bright side, this may remove the fluff from the curriculum, forcing planners to focus on the core aspects of education, instead of bloating it with irrelevant and forgettable data. Online teaching may bring forth a need for quality and efficiency, not quantity and dull memorization.
Overall, it seems like distance learning is great for review and practice, yet it remains suboptimal for teaching new information. Progress is being made at a glacial speed.
These findings will undoubtedly be taken into consideration in the case of a second shutdown.
Crisis accelerates inequality
When strained, already existing fault lines will become full-blown chasms. Out of all the educators surveyed by RAND, a hefty portion worked in schools that educated students of color or low-income students.
Just 9% of these teachers claimed that their pupils were completing assignments regularly. In other socio-economic situations, the lowest numbers start at 25%.
In general, most teachers have received some training that aims to prepare them for distance teaching. Yet, this is a very generalized procedure, with obvious omissions and unintended gaps. Educators struggle to meet the specific needs of homeless students or students with disabilities.
RAND’s interest in the topic does not stop with this study. It has launched a collaboration with other organizations to form the ASDP (American School District Panel). This panel has found some slightly disturbing pieces of data:
- Almost half( 42%) of surveyed teachers complain that their social studies and civic education material are severely underwhelming and do not match students’ interests. This reality can be a severe detriment, especially when considering that it is already harder to retain students’ attention in an online environment.
- The prevalence of non-scientific and conspiratorial claims is troublesome. The panel found that 87% of social studies teachers ( middle and high school) claimed that their students formed their opinions from unvalidated claims that they read online.
- In certain areas, around 66% of educators reported their student’s lack of access to online courses. Many children’s parents cannot afford to purchase a laptop, PC, tablet, or Smartphone. The pandemic shutdown does not cause this problem. Such scarcity existed before the crisis. Still, the needs brought by the crisis have further underlined the needs of disadvantaged students.
- It is remarkably troublesome to replace hands-on learning. Hands-on learning literally engages a different part of the brain than remote learning does. This makes it challenging to retain children’s attention. Motivation to learn is at an all-time low for many students. New methods of engagement need to be found, as ignoring students’ emotional needs can be very counterproductive.
RAND’s efforts have shined a light on many issues that the nation’s education system is facing. While the sample size is not massive, and its findings should not be taken as gospel, it is worth considering.
In conclusion, the impact of the pandemic on education has been almost universally negative. As we struggle to adapt to this changing environment, faults in our society become even more obvious.
While technology shows promise, it cannot work miracles. Not thought or effort was spent adapting the information highway of the internet to remote schooling needs. It is without a doubt that we will learn from this experience.
With each successive pandemic wave or any future crisis, the system will better mitigate eventual losses.