Many of the world’s children have been locked out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic, and risked missing vital parts of their education.
Research supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pointing to ways of supporting their literacy skills in current and any future lockdowns.
Reading skills during lockdown
A group at Bangor University, led by Dr Manon Jones, works to support reading among 240 school students aged 8 to 11. While children of this age can generally read, their skills are still being consolidated and may slip back.
The project developed an intensive reading and spelling course delivered by teachers.
Half of the children receive ‘synchronous’ education, in which a teacher is present via a shared screen, and responds to their efforts. The other half get ‘asynchronous’ teaching, where the child works alone and gets feedback later. Research assistants then assess gains in core literacy and language skills.
Dr Jones says:
We expect the synchronous approach to be far more effective. The question is, how much more effective will it be than the asynchronous method?
If it works acceptably, it might be a partial solution to COVID-related teaching and have continuing value for students who are unable to attend school.
The Welsh government awarded the group funds to train teachers to use this approach across Wales from September.
The effects of lockdown on young children
Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, is working on the effects of lockdown on a younger age group. She heads a project looking at the development of 18-to-36-month-olds, in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Leeds, East Anglia, Oxford and Warwick.
Her group has gathered data on 600 children in the UK, looking at language, sleep, the mental health of children and parents, types and levels of activity, and executive function – the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks.
Gonzalez-Gomez expects parental and child sleep, social interaction and outdoor activity to have changed under lockdown. These changes may affect language development.
It will be interesting to see how children’s indoor and outdoor activity during lockdown will affect their development. Also to see if there are differences between cities and smaller towns, where people have more access to outside space.
She expects social inequality to worsen under lockdown. She continues:
It might have benefits if you live in a good environment. But less advantaged children might have worse outcomes and the gap between the two groups might be bigger than before.
Education during COVID-19
As well as students, teachers are learning during lockdown. It has taught them a lot about the communities in which they work.
Professor Gemma Moss and colleagues at the UCL Institute of Education surveyed 1,653 primary teachers at schools in England during lockdown. This was part of the ESRC-funded project, ‘A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities during the COVID-19 crisis’.
They found that at the start of lockdown, teachers’ primary concern when in contact with families, alongside support for learning, was student welfare including basic food, health and emotional needs. The majority say schools have a role in community resilience that should be recognised and funded.
The results were interesting. Most felt it would be unfair for testing and inspection to go ahead next year, given the inequalities in how school closure has affected different communities.
Figure-wise, 65% of those teaching in more advantaged communities agree this would be unfair, as do 84% of those working in more disadvantaged areas.
Last updated: 28 October 2020