Head-to-Head: Pandemic-related learning loss is real, and it must be addressed

June 16, 2021

By Ella Sorg
Staff Writer

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on everyone, particularly students learning from home. This group has suffered learning loss, which is likely to impact them for years to come.

Learning loss is the decrease of academic skills and expertise during a break such as summer vacation or, in this case, Covid-19. 

Covid-19 has most impacted children between ages 5-8. Children in this age group need hands-on learning activities and socialization. They are not used to working on a computer at their home and require consistent help operating Zoom, Google Classroom and other online learning platforms.

These kids need supervision, whether it’s from a parent or sibling. Since parents often work and older kids have their own classes to attend, families have had to hire a nanny or employ a tutor, though not all families could afford to do so.

In the absence of a nanny or tutor, older children and teens have had to provide constant help to their younger siblings. This causes them to miss their own classes or have to divide their attention.

One problem of remote learning that affects all students is distractions. Of course, distractions are present in school, but there tend to be even more at home. These can range from noises outside to other siblings in their Zoom classes to the presence of pets. 

Age is not the only factor that impacts learning loss. Learning loss is most prevalent among low-income and minority students, which leads to a widening achievement gap. Experts have cautioned that disadvantaged students often lack the resources needed for remote learning, such as computer access, a quiet study room and assistance from parents or tutors.

Children with learning disabilities are another group that is especially struggling with learning loss, and being remote surely makes it worse. 

Learning loss is also felt most severely among those with anxiety. It would be easier for them to be in school with their teachers because they would likely feel more comfortable asking their teacher for help in person. They would also benefit from social interactions with classmates that would enable them to form friendships.

It is harder for kids to work in groups on Zoom, and a lot of kids who are shy are able to get away with not showing their faces, particularly in breakout rooms. It’s easy for them to just turn off their cameras and avoid speaking to one another in these situations because a teacher cannot be in multiple breakout rooms at the same time. 

Learning loss is the decrease of academic skills and expertise during a break such as summer vacation or, in this case, Covid-19.

Group work in a classroom setting is critical because it forces students to work together and strengthen their social skills and ability to work in teams. Students are also likely to have a greater attention span while working in a classroom because, unlike in Zoom’s breakout rooms, it is challenging for students to distance themselves when seated together in person.

Even in-person learning during the pandemic has led to learning loss because school days have been shortened, and due to social distancing, kids are limited in the way they can participate in group activities. 

Anxiety due to the pandemic and fear of getting sick has also impacted students’ concentration, especially when in an in-person classroom. Combined with depression and a lack of a normal routine due to hybrid learning, there are so many factors at play that contribute to learning loss, which will surely have an impact on children’s futures for years to come.

President Joe Biden is to be commended on his efforts to address the impacts of learning loss. He has proposed a stimulus plan of nearly $130 billion for America’s K-12 schools. The money, which would go to public and private schools, would be targeted at high-poverty districts and would be directed towards helping students who need help catching up. Biden proposed extended day programs, summer school and an extended school year to meet these goals. Furthermore, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education would receive $100 million to study learning loss and propose ways to address it.

This is a promising plan that could do a lot of good to address the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic, and hopefully by the end of the summer, more schools will be in a position to safely conduct a somewhat normal school day with limited restrictions. This will allow students to get back into a comfortable routine for the 2021-2022 school year and minimize their learning loss moving forward.

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