Sunday, December 31, 2023

Learning loss

When I visit IB schools as part of an evaluation team, I always carefully read through what the school has shared in its self-study questionnaire.  Invariably, when asked about challenges the schools have faced in the 5 year period under review, we are told about the impact of unplanned school closures and remote learning during the pandemic.  We hear about the loss of learning and the lack of development of many key social, communication and self-management skills.  

In my local schools I hear about this a lot too.  There is a government initiative to employ tutors to help students "catch up" with "lost learning".  The question is, what is actually meant by this, and is tutoring going to help?

At my previous school in India we did some research into learning loss as part of the R&D core team - this was before the pandemic so we focused on what happened during the long summer vacation - and as a result of this we temporarily prototyped a new school year calendar.  Looking back, it seems that most of the data we considered came from the USA where there appeared to be a drop in achievement in English and maths scores after the summer holidays.  The results of this data were inconclusive about the impact of a shorter summer holiday on learning.

Other studies have been done into the impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and bush fires on learning - though it is unclear how much of this loss is contributed to by the disaster-related consequences such as home being destroyed, evacuation to new areas, PTSD and so on.  Research does suggest that mental health can be affected for up to five years after a disaster and some students will need long-term support long after the disaster is over, however it also found that there is no evidence for increased school disengagement or poorer academic performance when there is a strong post-disaster response that mitigates the adverse effects.  

There is some data, too, about the potential impact of Covid-19 on learning.  For example LSE (London School of Economics) writes about a national crisis in post-pandemic school absences and states that "a huge slice of the COVID generation have never got back into the habit of regularly attending school". In the UK persistent absence is over 20%, and greater in the most deprived areas of the country - which is worrying.  Of course one thing that differs with school closures due to natural disasters is that during the pandemic most schools did provide some online instruction.  Clearly schools are now faced with more learner variability post-pandemic, however on the plus side we also know that schools are aware of strategies to overcome this.

Perhaps the biggest impact on students has not been on academic results, but instead on the need for schools to provide more holistic, social-emotional support and to focus on increasing motivation and engagement in learning, in particular with secondary rather than primary students, as they appear to have suffered more stress and therefore need more strategies to support them.  

The IB has identified key factors that can mitigate the impacts of "lost learning":

  • the development of skills to support resilience
  • a positive school environment
  • using assessment to support teaching and learning
  • goal-setting
  • differentiation
In addition for PYP students it is definitely worth considering the positive impact of a greater sense of autonomy and self-efficacy (learner agency).  In all schools I've visited, it does seem as if learner agency has strengthened in recent years, which may well be one reason why primary students appear to have fared better than secondary post-pandemic.

Image by Klimkin on Pixabay. Free for use under the Pixabay Content License

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