Australia should launch a $1 billion, six-month tutoring blitz to help one million disadvantaged school students recover learning lost during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a new Grattan Institute report.
COVID catch-up: helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap calls on governments to send a battalion of 100,000 tutors into schools between now and Christmas to conduct intensive small-group sessions on reading and maths.
The report shows that many disadvantaged students – those from the poorest 25 per cent of families and rural areas – will have fallen further behind their classmates during the COVID-19 school closures.
Even where remote learning was working well for advantaged students, disadvantaged students are likely to have lost a month of learning on average during the six-to-nine weeks of school closures in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory.
The report says about one million disadvantaged students should attend tutoring sessions three-to-five times a week for up to three months, in groups of about three, either during regular school hours or before or after school. Done well, these sessions could boost their learning by five months between now and the end of the year.
It says tutors should be drawn from teachers and teacher aides who work part-time, but especially from young university graduates and pre-service teachers, who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 job and income losses. Most tutors would work about eight hours a week and could earn up to $6,300 over the six months.
The tutoring blitz would cost about $1 billion, but the report says benefits to the economy would be much larger. The young tutors would have extra income during the recession, and would be likely to spend it quickly, helping stimulate the economy between now and Christmas. Disadvantaged students who gained extra learning would earn more over their lifetime, boosting the economy in years to come.
The report also recommends governments spend $70 million expanding successful literacy and numeracy programs, especially for students in the early years, and $30 million on trials of ‘targeted teaching’ and extra support for student well-being.
“Our schools, teachers, and students adapted remarkably well when the COVID-19 crisis forced them to switch almost overnight to remote learning,” lead author and Grattan Institute Education Fellow Dr Julie Sonnemann said.
“But this report shows that most students did not learn as much while at home as they would have in their classroom – and disadvantaged students were hardest hit.
“Our tutoring blitz plan is a win-win-win: the tutors get extra income, the economy gets extra stimulus and, most importantly, our disadvantaged students get the chance for a better life.”