Though some may benefit from summer tuition, school closures affected children’s social, emotional and psychological education too
As the school year draws to a close, some families may worry that their child or children have been disadvantaged by all the school disruptions during the pandemic. Some parents may now be wondering if they need to arrange additional educational input for their child over the summer.
When I last wrote about the impact of school closures, about five months ago, I reported on a large systematic review that had been conducted looking at literature that was available up to 2020, incorporating the first lockdown. That review concluded that children and teenagers did experience adverse impacts to their emotional, psychological, and general physical wellbeing.
Although the reviewers did note that it wasn’t clear if these adverse impacts were due just to the school closures, or whether they were also associated with the social and environmental changes that children experienced. The review also had no data about the educational impact of missing school.
Research prior to the pandemic, that has looked at the impact of lost time in school, shows that children do worse academically, and may lose out on higher educational opportunities when they lose that time.
There are consistent findings since the pandemic, that the negative impact of educational disruption has continued to be most felt by marginalised students — students from low-income families, students of colour, students with disabilities and students with limited English capacity. That suggests there will be some students who need accelerated learning opportunities or remediation, perhaps through summer school or summer tuition.
Identifying those students can be hard, however, and policymakers have had to rely mostly on an understanding of learning loss from studies that look at the impact of school holidays on children’s rate of learning, and the potential slippage that occurs over the summer holiday break especially.
A recent review, from the UCL Institute of Education in the UK, however, argues that the conditions surrounding Covid-19 school closures don’t reflect the simple finishing of school for a summer break.
They note that we might get a better understanding if we look at what happens to children when schools are closed for sudden and unplanned reasons — such as the previous SARS epidemic, or weather-related events like Hurricane Katrina or the Christchurch earthquakes. These events, while not directly comparable, were closer in terms of the unexpected closures and distress experienced by the whole community.
That review concluded that the specific educational or academic needs of the children were secondary to the emotional and psychological needs of the children. Rather than highlighting a need for “catch-up” learning by children, it suggested that children do need more time and more flexibility within the curriculum, but that this time was needed for children to be able to reflect and express their feelings about the return to normalcy.
One of their recommendations was that we have to move beyond calculating learning loss and instead focus on the experience of educating during the pandemic.
Another piece of research I read spoke about the need to support teachers in the aftermath of the pandemic since they will remain the critical interface between children and learning, rather than focusing on where students may have lost ground.
This shift in thinking appeals to me. The concept of learning loss is typically derived from standardised testing of literacy and numeracy (most parents will be familiar with the Drumcondra tests, or the SIGMA-T and MICRA-T) that is repeated over time. While literacy and numeracy are important indicators of academic attainment, they are simply not the only things children learn in school. There is also deeper learning like problem-solving, social and emotional learning, learning in nature, digital proficiency and learning to be democratic citizens.
Perhaps this is why some of the research about the impact of prior school closures in times of natural disasters, like the Christchurch earthquakes, has found that some of the expected learning losses didn’t occur. Indeed, there were some unexpected educational gains in some cases.
All of which suggests to me that most children need less focus on what academic learning they may have missed and more opportunities to process the psychological, social and emotional impact of the school closures. Perhaps this is the time to think about psychological support for your child, rather than academic support. Perhaps it is also time to ensure our teachers have what they need to launch back in September with the vitality and expertise required.