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What helped Irish school children cope with learning in lockdown?

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Boy looking at computer

Source: Thomas Park

COVID-19 has disrupted children’s education. Although several studies documented substantial learning loss among primary school children using data from national standardized tests, little is known about children’s own experiences of remote schooling. A recent study by Yekaterina Chzhen (Trinity College Dublin); Jennifer Symonds, Dympna Devine, Seaneen Sloan, Gabriela Martinez Sainz (University College Dublin); Julia Mikolai (University of St Andrews); and Susan Harkness (University of Bristol) investigates primary school children’s self-reported engagement with remote schooling during the Spring 2020 lockdown in Ireland. Schools were closed from 13 March until 30 June 2020, one of the longest closures across wealthy countries at the time. An abrupt and unexpected transition to remote learning via digital communication and learning technologies required significant involvement from parents of younger children. 

The study uses data from an ongoing nationwide Children’s School Lives project. It provides a unique opportunity to compare Irish primary school children’s well-being before and during the pandemic. The first wave of the study took place before the COVID-19 outbreak (May-August 2019), when the participants were 8-9 years old, and the second wave during the first year of the pandemic (May-July 2020).

Children reported higher levels of engagement with remote learning, on average, if (1) they used laptops or desktop computers, rather than tablets or smartphones; (2) they had a parent to turn to when they were worried about their homework; and (3) they had a teacher who checked their work. This is consistent with findings from surveys of parents in Ireland, which also showed inequalities in resources for home schooling, such as a quiet place to study. These findings are also in line with the emerging literature on the importance of digital technologies and adequate help from parents and schools during lockdowns.

Children who liked school before the pandemic also coped better with remote learning. So did those who had lower pre-pandemic teacher-reported hyperactivity and inattention scores. This is consistent with findings from studies that indicated a greater negative impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children with special educational needs and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Although the authors expected to find a socio-economic gradient in children’s engagement with remote schooling, they found little evidence to support this hypothesis. It could be that parents in professional and managerial occupations who continued to work full-time had less time to devote to helping their children with remote schooling than those who lost their jobs or were on furlough. It could also be that the child-reported family affluence items do not fully capture socio-economic status. Future research into socio-economic differences in the impact of the pandemic on children’s education should collect reliable socio-economic information from parents.

Author(s) of the original publication
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Yekaterina Chzhen