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Children from low-income families will be disproportionately impacted if schools across Melbourne are forced back into remote learning this month, according to new research.

The research shows that remote learning in response to the COVID-19crisis has compounded the existing inequalities in Australia’s school system, and children from disadvantaged communities are at risk of falling further behind.

The findings suggest the Andrews government will need to give higher priority to the needs of disadvantaged children to avoid the problems they experienced during the first phase of distance learning in April and May. 

The research, based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,100 (25% in Victoria) primary and secondary teachers representing more than 10% of schools in Australia by Pivot Professional Learning and Education Perfect (EP), found strong evidence that the gap between advantage and disadvantage in Australian education widened during the shift to distance learning in April and May due to COVID-19, and may widen again in Victoria.

The researchers have warned that the likely continuation of distance learning in future – including through intermittent school closures due to Coronavirus – will leave many children further deprived unless governments intervene to solve the technology and access gap. 

In key findings, teachers in the most disadvantaged schools were:

  • Half as confident their school could support student’s learning online.
  • Almost four times as likely to believe their schools were not well-positioned to transition to online instruction.
  • Almost four times as likely to be worried about students’ lack of access to technology and the internet andfive times as likely to be worried about students lacking access to basic needs.
  • Twice as likely to think that their school’s primary technology doesn’t engage students.
  • Five times more likely to say they couldn’t effectively communicate with students and three times more likely to say they couldn’t effectively communicate with parents

Pivot CEO and lead researcher Amanda Bickerstaff said the Coronavirus crisis and the sudden forced shift to online learning had ‘’laid bare structural inequities in the educational system.’’ 

‘’With schools and families in Victoria bracing for another round of remote learning, it’s now or never to put policies in place to ensure that students have the same access to learning regardless of background.” 

Given that distance teaching may exacerbate existing inequities, Ms. Bickerstaff said policy interventions were more critical than ever.

For distance learning to be successful for all students, policymakers and education providers need to focus on:

  • Improving access to internet and technology for students in disadvantaged communities
  • Development of high quality, non-technology solutions for those schools where infrastructure issues prohibit access to reliable internet
  • Prioritising professional learning for educators to support online teaching
  • Identifying and implementing additional supports for students that were more deeply impacted by the rapid shift to distance learning

 

A full version of the survey report and analysis is available at  insightsfor.education.

 

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