Education Gazette editors
A Christchurch study conducted after the nationwide Covid 19 lockdown has identified a range of positives which could help ensure better outcomes in future crises.
The Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network (GCSN) conducted a survey after the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown to understand the impacts of teaching and learning over lockdown on students, whānau and teachers in Christchurch schools. There were a total of 3,105 responses to the survey, with 1,156 responses from students.
The survey, written by the GCSN, was distributed to students, school staff and whānau in the greater Christchurch region and assessed access to remote learning and the experiences of students, whānau and teaching staff during the Covid lockdown.
The student-specific survey included questions relating to whether students enjoyed learning during lockdown and preferred digital learning to books and paper; how well they perceived themselves to have learnt at home, and their perceptions of the support they received. They were also asked whether anything could improve remote learning in the future, and whether they wanted to see aspects of remote learning continued when returning to face-to-face learning.
Data gathered was analysed to identify common themes associated with students’ lockdown experiences. Themes were:
- Independence over learning.
- Preferring online learning to traditional learning methods.
- Less distraction than in the classroom.
- Families’ engagement with students’ education.
- Provision and quality of learning materials.
The research found that the challenge of lockdown encouraged students to take more control over their education, with many students deciding how and when they were best able to learn and complete set tasks.
Being given the opportunity to create a more personalised approach to their learning allowed students to feel empowered despite the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic:
“It has been nice to learn at home as it has allowed me to dedicate to different subjects as I wish; for example, more time spent on assessments than other classwork.”
“I like setting my own time frame and doing all my work at my own pace and there has been no time limit – like you have to finish writing at this time – I can choose.”
Primary and secondary school students believed learning at home progressed at a higher level than if at school. However, rates of learning progression were closely related to levels of familial support students received during lockdown: 82.2 per cent of students had someone at home who was able to help them with learning.
While the trend indicates that increased student agency had a positive impact on learning, this doesn’t apply to all students as some require more structured settings and some have challenging learning conditions at home.
Embracing online learning
The survey asked students to assess how much they enjoyed learning on devices compared with traditional mediums. Overall, students enjoyed learning on devices – for some, even more so than using traditional mediums like books and paper.
The student quote below highlights the connection between student agency and use of online learning.
“Learning at home has been a lot more fun than it was at school and I found it better because when we work at school we learn where most of your class is at, but when we work online the work is more personal to you and you are working at your level.”
An increasing reliance on technologies in the classroom is common in the New Zealand education system, with blended learning systems becoming increasingly popular. The research recommends further work in ensuring families have equitable access to remote learning will ensure future instances of remote learning can be handled with greater ease.
The use of online platforms like Google Meet and Zoom were noted by students as being useful platforms that allowed them to maintain contact with their teachers and stay on top of their work. A number of students commented that they would like to see the continued use of devices and online platforms at school.
Home learning environments
Aspects of learning during lockdown appreciated by parents included accessibility, the quality of learning materials, and family engagement with education and communication. However, parents who needed to work from home struggled to balance their work and caregiving roles, and some did not feel adequately supported by their schools.
A successful home learning environment in which students had the necessary resources and support, and were not disrupted, was pivotal to their success. Support included household members taking on teaching roles, ongoing teacher support and maintaining connections with peers: as noted, 82.2 per cent of students had someone at home helping them with online learning.
Many students recognised that their health and wellbeing improved, as having a more flexible schedule allowed them to prioritise self-care activities like sleeping more and spending more time outdoors.
Some students felt that the home was an environment in which they could better concentrate on school tasks. But the data did identify a correlation between the number of people in a household and the level of disruption students experienced.
Family members adopting teaching roles was essential to the success of many students during lockdown: 93.9 per cent of parents surveyed engaged in home-schooling with their children to some degree. Many parents valued being able to spend more time with their children and felt more engaged with their children’s education.
There were issues around parents having less time to work, having to change focus quickly, unavailability and lost childcare. However, 62.6 per cent of parents were supported by another household member during lockdown, which alleviated some of the stress and pressure.
Accessibility and quality of learning materials
When the pending lockdown was announced, preparations were quickly made to equip as many families as possible with computers and Internet connectivity to ensure they could participate in remote learning.
Teachers and staff were asked how well equipped they perceived their schools were, going into lockdown. A majority felt their schools had received a moderate to high level of support, such as technology and software support, updates and direct contact with the Ministry of Education, device and internet distribution, and the provision of learning and resource packs.
A majority of students said they found schoolwork, resources and assignments to be easy to access through devices and online platforms.
“Learning at home gave me opportunities to connect with apps online to talk with my friends and access work.”
The importance of communication and connection during a period of remote learning was highlighted by the research, with the conclusion that if students feel supported in their learning environment, regardless of whether they are at home or in the classroom, they are more likely to remain engaged and therefore succeed.
In response to the results of their research, the GCSN formulated a number of recommendations about how teachers and schools could prepare for similar events in the future:
- Focus collective efforts towards equipping schools digitally, including working with other schools and community groups to ensure that all students have access to digital devices and internet.
- Engage with charities/ funding bodies/ government to secure resources as digital technologies for individual students who are not part of centrally funded infrastructure.
- Work to ensure all students have access to devices and an internet connection, as a proportion of students still lack the necessary resources for online learning.
- Formalise plans for remote learning in anticipation of future events and better plan for remote learning scenarios, including how privacy and data security is upheld.
- Engage more with online learning tools such as online resources, apps and programmes that could be helpful in remote learning environments and face-to-face learning.
- Professional learning and development: teachers will require knowledge, skills and abilities about available resources and pedagogies to better assist students in remote learning environments.
- Schools should create or review policies for online learning in case of future events that result in the implementation of remote learning.
- Stronger focus on independence and agency – the lockdown period highlighted the independence students had over their learning, which can also be supported in face-to-face learning situations.
- Recognition of adults and children supporting students marks a cultural shift that should be recognised moving forward.
- Foster online communities and enhance connectivity, which could ensure better outcomes for those involved in remote learning and also address feelings of isolation and loneliness.
This post was originally published in the Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero. It is reproduced here by permission.
The full research report by GCSN, “Closing the digital divide during the COVID-19 lockdown: Student, whānau, and staff perspectives”, is available here.