New research out today shows that the implementation of distance learning in response to the COVID-19 crisis has compounded the existing inequalities in Australia’s school system and children from disadvantaged communities are at risk of falling further behind.

The research, based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,100 primary and secondary teachers representing more than 10% of schools in Australia by Pivot Professional Learning and EP, found strong evidence that the gap between advantage and disadvantage in Australian education widened during the shift to distance learning in April and May due to COVID-19.

The researchers have warned that the likely continuation of distance learning in future – including through intermittent school closures due to Coronavirus – will leave many children further deprived unless governments intervene to solve the technology and access gap.

In key findings, teachers in the most disadvantaged schools were:

  • Half as confident their school could support student’s learning online.
  • Almost four times as likely to believe their schools were not well-positioned to transition to online instruction.
  • Almost four times as likely to be worried about students’ lack of access to technology and the internet and five times as likely to be worried about students lacking access to basic needs.
  • Twice as likely to think that their school’s primary technology doesn’t engage students.
  • Five times more likely to say they couldn’t effectively communicate with students and three times more likely to say they couldn’t effectively communicate with parents.

Pivot CEO and lead researcher Amanda Bickerstaff said the Coronavirus crisis and the sudden forced shift to online learning had ‘’laid bare structural inequities in the educational system.’’

‘’It is imperative that policymakers and education organisations turn their attention not only to strengthening schools’ readiness for an uncertain future and teachers’ preparedness to teach online, but also addressing the clear technology and internet gaps felt by Australia’s most marginalised communities. This is a call to action that can’t be ignored.’’

Given that distance teaching may exacerbate existing inequities, Ms. Bickerstaff said policy interventions were more critical than ever. For distance learning to be successful for all students, policymakers and education providers need to focus on:

  • Working collaboratively to drive real solutions for schools serving disadvantaged communities
  • Improving access to internet and technology for students in disadvantaged communities
  • Development of high quality, non-technology solutions for those schools where infrastructure issues prohibit access to reliable internet
  • Prioritising professional learning for educators to support online teaching
  • Identifying and implementing additional supports for students that were more deeply impacted by the rapid shift to distance learning

A full version of the survey report and analysis is available from 2 July, 2020 at  insightsfor.education.

Webinar – Wednesday 1st of July, 6.30pm AEST

‘Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic’ whitepaper launch.

The impact of COVID-19 has affected us all, but the impact on schools in economically disadvantaged areas has been significant in comparison.

We surveyed educators from over 10% of Australian schools on their experience of online teaching and learning due to COVID-19 and are publishing our findings in an effort to create effective action.

Joined by leaders of change and equity in education, we will be discussing our key findings and providing several recommendations on how we can address this great equity divide.

Join us Wednesday 1st of July, 6.30pm AEST.

Register here.