How has remote learning affected younger students?

27 DEC 2021

How has education delivery been adapted (or not) to fit younger students’ needs? What are the potential consequences?

by Gala Radinovic

As a former Head of English, I honestly do not know who was the most dumbfounded in the school corridors when in February 2020 (almost two years ago, can you believe it?) it was announced that schools would be going remote in Dubai for two weeks to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Was it the students, the parents, or the teachers? Or was it the school administrators who pretended they had it all under control? Perhaps all the above. The reality is that remote learning was already present in many organizations before everyone was forced to give it a try – my own brother completed his MBA online a good five years ago!

Adaptability and modifying learning resources to suit the needs of their students have always been tools in an effective teacher’s arsenal, and many took to the remote learning like a fish to water. Others, however, struggled for a myriad of reasons. First, many schools (even elite private schools with large tuition bills!) lacked the technology to effectively take on remote learning. As such, schools scrambled to find solutions that fit their budget ranging from various apps (the Big Blue Button, Schoology, BlackBoard, SeeSaw, Zoom, etc) to acquiring new technology. Schools were not the only ones who had to acquire new technology, as teachers often had to buy updated laptops from their own funds and parents did likewise for their children. I vividly recall a friend of mine in Delaware, USA telling me how relieved she was to buy the last MacBook in the store for her son, as they were selling out fast because everyone was going remote! In addition, many teachers from an older generation were forced to change the delivery of their craft overnight. Numerous students from the tech-savvy Generation Z pointed out that they often had to help their less tech-savvy teachers navigate the new way of teaching. School administrators eventually got a handle on this and realized that they needed to create and foster more professional development opportunities that centered around education technology.

However, it should also be noted that the digital divide theory, as researched by Doctor Joseph Turow, was made more prominent than ever under the COVID-19 circumstances. In a nutshell, the digital divide theory explores how the gap between people who can and cannot access information technology is widening and correlates to income levels. The higher a household’s income bracket, the higher the chance of accessing technology for educational and work purposes. It has always been presumed the students who have access to better schooling have a better chance at success and with schools going remote and the digital divide factoring in, younger students from families in lower income brackets are essentially worse off than those who have access to personal laptops, private online tutoring, etc. During the height of the pandemic, schooling in some countries such as Mexico even went on public television so that students who do not have access to laptops could still receive regular instruction from a qualified teacher.

In addition to the availability of resources, it is important to also consider the effectiveness of remote learning. Given that universities have used remote learning for many years now, some schools such as Harvard Business School already had a very streamlined online delivery process. On the other hand, schools for very young children such as a Montessori nursery were severely impacted as the younger a student is, the more hands-on and in-person the learning is. In short, the younger the audience, the more negative impact there will be due to remote learning. For example, an unexpected, but logical, side effect seen in students starting first grade at the dawn of the pandemic is that now, as third-graders, their handwriting is not as developed as it should be; researches explain that this is because these students have been typing or drawing the letters on their iPad rather than holding a pencil – thus missing out on key motor control abilities that are fine-tuned in that age. The social aspect of education also needs to be considered; while students may have become experts at using break-out rooms on Zoom, how does this correlate to the typical social experience students would have at an in-person school?

Finally, we need to consider the need for specific physical resources. How can you conduct an effective science lab with a complex procedure from your mom’s kitchen? While some countries have now eased restrictions enough to allow students to return to schools, even if only part-time or to do certain things such as be in the science lab, others have not permitted the resumption of such activities and watching a video of the process or reading about the theories behind it does not replace hands-on learning. When children are (hopefully) able to return to school, how are they going to catch up on this missed window of opportunity? Will curriculum need to be altered so as to reflect more realistic learning expectations? Only time will tell.

So, given that COVID-19 appears to have no end in sight with the new, highly-contagious (yet thankfully weaker) Omicron variant making its way around, how do we make the most out of remote learning for young children? Stay tuned for the next article, where we will discuss the opportunities present in education amidst the pandemic because as always, there is a light in the tunnel.


Your friendly neighbourhood Rise blogger,

Gala

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