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NEW RESEARCH SHOWS COVID-19 WIDENS EDUCATION GAP IN AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS

Major Australian Educator Survey:

Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic

Governments and policy makers are being urged to find solutions to technology and internet access gaps to ensure children in disadvantaged school communities don’t fall further behind.  

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

The research, based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,100 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.

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:

  • Almost four times as likely to be worried about students’ lack of access to technology and the internet (59.1%) as those in the most advantaged category (16.5%)
  • Twice as likely to be concerned about children lacking support from a parent or guardian (43.6%) during distance learning. This may be due in part to less flexible work options of parents and guardians in disadvantaged communities. 
  • More than five times as likely to fear students lacking access to basic needs (23.8%).
  • Almost four times as likely to believe their schools were not well-positioned to transition to online instruction.

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.’’

‘’It is imperative that policymakers and education organizations turn their attention not only to strengthening schools’ readiness for an uncertain future and teachers’ preparedness to teach online, but also addressing the clear technology and internet gaps felt by Australia’s most marginalised communities. This is a call to action that can’t be ignored’’

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: 

  • Working collaboratively to drive real solutions for schools serving disadvantaged communities
  • 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, like tutoring, for students that were more deeply impacted by the rapid shift to distance learning

For more information of the survey report and analysis, go to insightsfor.education.