The effect of the loss of schooling hours post-lockdown
It is expected that after lockdown most children will require up to 8 hours more tuition a week to make up for the loss of learning. During the pandemic, many schools have adopted some form of distance learning, with teachers providing material through online portals such as Google Classroom or holding lessons over YouTube or Zoom. Evidence for online learning as a direct substitute for school is mixed. And the switch to distance learning is likely to exacerbate a pattern well established in natural disasters: Those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are often the worst affected.
It’s impossible to know how much each child is learning in lockdown. However, private school students in the UK are twice as likely as state school students to be accessing online lessons every day. Similarly, working-class students were spending less of their time during lockdown studying, and have seen a more significant drop off in the quality of their work.
The most disadvantaged areas felt that children were getting an hour or less of Private schools are more likely to have used online learning tools before the outbreak, and wealthier students are more likely to have their own devices, reliable broadband, and space for studying at home. We are looking at a difference of half of private school children having 9:00-until-3:00 online lessons every day, and way under 10 percent of state schools doing that.
Whether it’s safe to reopen schools is a difficult calculation: Though children seem to show fewer symptoms of Covid-19, we still don’t have definitive evidence of what role they play in spreading the virus between households. Any reopening must weigh the risks to society at large, to children’s education, and to the economy, as the continuing closure of schools prevents parents from returning to work.
In at least one sense, the lockdown will provide researchers with something previously unthinkable: a mass experiment into the very role of schools. The biggest question is going to be, is the learning loss as big as we think? We can’t know, and we’re not going to know for some time.
Otherwise, the big philosophical question is, to what extent are schools there to facilitate the economic productivity of adults, versus the learning of children? That is, what if the learning loss isn’t as bad as we expect, and the children actually benefit from some elements of lockdown—for example, from closer one-on-one attention and time with their parents?
One key sign that children are struggling with their mental health is regression: showing behaviours expected of younger children. “In younger children there might be bed wetting or general toileting issues. There might be speech delays, they might become withdrawn or difficult to manage. There might be difficult sleeping. It is quite normal to have a response to what is an abnormal situation.
Disasters can also be destructive in more subtle ways, as with the many millions of parents left unemployed. Change of income, change of employment, relationship breakdown—all of those things that you commonly see after an event have an additional impact on mental health outcomes. There are already signs that the pandemic is causing anxiety in children.
Resilience, essentially, is the capacity to adapt to a major disruption. But we’re really careful not to place it on the individual—’are you a resilient person’—because in fact that’s not meaningful. We all have certain traits that enable us to adapt, but it’s also about the resources that we can draw on and the social support that we have. So, when we think about child resilience, it’s useful to think about, how do we establish an environment that enables children to thrive in a difficult context?
One of the best ways to help children, she says, is to empower them in the recovery effort. For example, schoolchildren helped to plant community gardens. They need to feel like they can deal with what’s happening, and they need to feel that their family can deal with what’s happening. There are great examples at the moment, like the chalk messages on footpaths, or the rainbows in the windows—even for the youngest children, they know they’re making a difference for their community.
Society will need to help children adapt to the new norms in a post-lockdown world. But whatever happens post lockdown we will have all learnt invaluable resilience skills.
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