Returning to School in the Wake of Literacy Regression
With a United Nations report stating that the learning losses for children as a result of Covid 19 is “the largest disruption to education in history” it should come as no surprise that the pandemic’s effect on children's literacy and learning skills all over the globe has been widespread and adverse, with reports showing that the restrictions put in place to control the spread of the virus have lead to a regression in basic learning skills, including communication, concentration, writing and oral fluency. With schools in Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean getting ready to reopen this September, having been subject to online learning for over a year, it may prove useful to take a look at reports that have investigated the impact of Covid on children who have already returned to school, in other parts of the globe. Furthermore, with the anxiety that comes with an entire generation falling behind in education (disproportionately affecting socio-economically disadvantaged children) because of a worldwide pandemic, it feels urgent to consider alternative and engaging ways of getting them back on track and fully immersed in learning once again.
“From the most economically advantaged and academically talented, to the most disadvantaged students who already had considerable barriers to their learning - every student will likely experience regression in academic learning and social economic development”.
An Ofstead report, carried out during September and October of 2020 is able to provide thorough insight into some of the effects of Covid on pupils throughout the UK, which were observed by teachers and carers from over 900 education and social care providers. It was stated that the children who were hit hardest by the school closures, had regressed in some basic skills and learning, while older children had lost stamina in their reading and writing, many of whom experiencing mental distress and often as a result of lost physical fitness. Reading was the most significant regression commonly pointed out by primary school leaders, as well as writing skills including spelling, grammar, punctuation, and the ability to write at length.
In an article written by Michael D. Toth via learningsciences.com, he stated that school officials in the US reported that “many students have become more passive, have less sense of social belonging and feel disengaged from their learning.” This is a direct consequence of the social isolation that often came with school closures, as well as inconsistency of structure and lack of engagement with other students while learning online.
"A study by the University of Southampton shows that it could take a full year for students particularly from disadvantaged families to catch up"
It seems inarguable that engaging students in the classroom with the reopening of schools is a vital step in tackling the regression that has undoubtedly occurred. A study by the University of Southampton shows that it could take a full year for students particularly from disadvantaged families to catch up, and with many students having had limited or no access to the internet, for the duration of an online learning academic year, as well as parents and carers who had no choice but to work throughout the pandemic, it is clear that a huge number of children within the Caribbean will fall into this category.
It is therefore urgent that maximum effort is made with the return to the classroom centred learning, and student-driven teaching strategies may be a key tool in tackling this problem head on. Toth states that “creating challenging learning tasks and giving students the roles, responsibilities and collaborative structures to engage in these tasks” can prove hugely beneficial to addressing the the problems of concentration, motivation, social and communication skills that have all depleted as a result of the pandemic, while simultaneously working to build on reading and writing in a way that the students are fully engaged in.
In the article entitled ‘Achievement Gaps and the Lost Covid 19 Generation, Toth states, “From the most economically advantaged and academically talented, to the most disadvantaged students who already had considerable barriers to their learning - every student will likely experience regression in academic learning and social economic development”. There is not a child who goes unaffected by this worldwide disruption in education. Helping children get back on track when they are back in the classroom, particularly those who are economically unable to have access to the resources that may aid them in this process, must be a priority.
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