Many students across Australia are shifting to learning from home to help slow the spread of COVID-19. While there are strong health arguments for this transition, it has serious implications for fairness and equal opportunity, experts warn.
Unless these issues are addressed, the shift could undermine the education of vulnerable and disadvantaged students, experts weigh in on the issue below.
Professor John Fischetti is Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Education and Arts of the University of Newcastle, and President of the NSW Council of Deans of Education. He is an expert on equity issues in education, and on educational leadership. He points to the safety, care, and learning that many students will now be deprived of.
“In one month, schools around the world have transitioned from a predominantly face-to-face to a predominantly school-at-home mode, said Professor Fischetti.
“This hyper-speed transition has exposed a series of profound equity issues.”
“Nearly 2.5 million Australians do not have internet access. Many families with access often have only one computer or laptop to be shared with several users, including a parent working from home. It is much more complex for teachers and schools to provide support for students with special needs or personal learning differences.
Professor Fischetti said that physical schools provide safety, caring and nurturing that is sometimes missing at home. He said that this places vulnerable students at risk of loneliness, isolation, hunger and a loss of self-worth. Schools are the one place in our society where young people can count on adults looking out for them.
Associate Professor Sue Nichols, University of South Australia said that now more than ever, recognition of educational disadvantage must come to grips with digital exclusion.
Sue Nichols is the Associate Head of the University of South Australia’s School of Education. Her areas of research include literacy, school-family partnership, and inclusive education.
She underlines that the present crisis will make it urgent to deal with unequal access to digital resources.
“Now more than ever, recognition of educational disadvantage must come to grips with digital exclusion, associated with differences in families’ access, knowledge, use and networks.” said A/Prof Nichols.
“The most disadvantaged Australians are those who rely solely on a mobile phone and the group most affected are single parents. With no common approach to schools’ uptake of digital platforms, and a proliferation of commercial providers, parents struggle to understand what kinds of technological resources and knowledge they need to interact with schools, or should access to support their children’s learning.”
Professor Vaille Dawson, University of Western Australia said the damage to educational outcomes could be irreparable.
Professor Dawson is an expert in science education and Deputy Head of School, Education, at the University of Western Australia’s Graduate School of Education. Her research has focused specifically on science education in disadvantaged schools.
“Children from disadvantaged families face many issues in the transition to learning from home. The social, psychological and technology issues will mean that the damage to educational outcomes could be irreparable.”
“Disadvantaged children already lag behind their peers. According to PISA and NAPLAN data, children from disadvantaged families are, on average, 2-3 years behind their more advantaged peers in literacy, numeracy and science.”
She said the cohort most at risk are those in their final years of schooling – those about to graduate and enter the workforce or further education. For these young people, and their families, transitioning to learning at home poses a critical risk to their educational aspirations.
“One solution is for Year 10-12 students to be able to continue to attend a school or a learning centre (with hygiene and social distancing) and use individualised online learning and maintain practical work, while providing mental health support.”