Early Signs on the Impact from a Lost Year of In-School Learning

As the ongoing pandemic shuts down schools around the world, many are concerned for the wellbeing of the children that these shut-downs impact most.

Across the US, Canada, the UK, and many other places, school has been out of session since the pandemic began over a year ago. While many school districts initially scrambled to set up online learning procedures, these structures do not provide an adequate opportunity for all. There are severe limitations to online learning, and in many ways, these systems are much more difficult on families than in-class learning.

Finding the time to teach children or help them learn what they are being presented online is often tricky – especially when parents themselves do not have the same standard of education that kids receive today. For many parents, this transition has been challenging, and they are struggling to find an acceptable balance. There is a collective worry about the impact that this new learning environment will have in the long run, and parents are left pondering their children’s future as they suffer through sleepless nights.

With more than a years’ worth of evidence on the effectiveness of online learning now available, the findings are grim. National and State data is flooding in, and emerging reports show that children’s academic achievements are falling short. Much of the ongoing research has concluded that students of color and those in high-poverty communities are further behind than their peers.

A study released by McKinsey & Co. estimates that the shift to online learning last Spring has set kids back substantially. White students have been set back by one to three months in math, but students of color – especially Black and Hispanic students – were losing approximately three to five months in the same area.

The new digital divide created by a shift to remote learning has been tackled head-on in many areas, with schools stepping up to provide students with the tools they require to get online and learn. Still, there has been a large amount of struggle in actually achieving learning. Despite valiant efforts to provide everyone with access to remote education through school-provided computers, laptops, and tablets, there is still a significant gap.

While experts worldwide have pondered the causes of this disparity, and blame has been placed on everything from poverty to parents, there remains no solid answer to this ever-increasing issue. With students on average likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year, a solution needs to be found – fast – because for students of color, this inequality is even greater – with estimates showing a loss of up to a years’ worth of learning.

While all students are suffering during these difficult times, it appears that those with fewer academic opportunities are now at an even greater risk.

The immediate focus in most areas is the prevention of Covid, but the focus must shift to the limitation of lost learning opportunities. While we may not be able to prevent the spread of this deadly virus until a vaccine is available, we can encourage more substantial learning through more diverse and accessible platforms that cater to various learning styles.

Although consequences include a drop in academic learning across the board, what is more disturbing is the increase in high school kids dropping out altogether and the dramatic decrease that can be found in kindergarten enrollment during this period. Whether in high school or kindergarten, the choice to skip out on school will have long-term effects that may be irreversible if this situation continues.

Finding effective measures to teach kids when they cannot be in classrooms is imperative to their future and the country’s future as a whole. Children today deserve to have the tools and resources required to learn effectively, whether they remain in school or opt to learn online. As It stands currently, those who fall in the latter group are not receiving those resources or the education they are entitled to, which can significantly impact their overall performance and long-term life outcomes.   

It would be best for school systems to focus on building and refining online education environments to promote learning for all students, regardless of their status or social positions moving forward. Kids, no matter where they come from, deserve more than they are currently being given. Sadly, without changes to this quickly adopted system, the future for many will remain bleak. We owe it to our kids to do better if we hope for them to be better.


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