In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, schools struggled to cope with swift transition to distance learning, and students felt the brunt of it.
Teachers transitioned to a remote learning environment without adequate preparation or forewarning, and many students lacked the mobile learning devices and reliable Internet access needed to effectively participate. The result was that even though remote learning commenced across the country, it was not undertaken with the same rigor as traditional classroom instruction. In fact, some schools deliberately changed their grading system to lower the stakes for both students and educators just getting used to meeting virtually.
THE EVER-PRESENT DIGITAL DIVIDE
The downside of the speedy transition to distance learning was that certain students, often those without the right digital learning tools, were further handicapped by the full-time switch to virtual instruction.
According to a blog post by Options for Youth, “[o]n average, students lose more than two and half months’ worth of grade equivalency in math skills during summer vacation, and low-income students typically also lose two or more months’ worth of reading performance.” The authors go on to state that the losses incurred in the summer “often aren’t recuperated come fall, instead accumulating over years, resulting in students performing significantly below their grade level.”
A 2011 research report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation found that “summer learning loss is cumulative; over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap.”
The gulf is felt even more acutely among historically disadvantaged student groups, including low-income students, students in rural communities, and students with special needs.
HOW COVID-19 IMPACTS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
There’s no doubt that in bringing technology to the fore the COVID-19 highlighted an already desperate situation about the lack of digital equity in education. Even more compelling during the pandemic was the complete dependency on digital technologies for distance learning.
EdSurge noted that “in a matter of days [following the move to distance learning], the “homework gap” widened to a full-fledged learning gap.”
In the same article, John King, Jr., former Secretary of Education under the Obama administration and current president and CEO of the Education Trust, painted a bleak picture of the way the pandemic affected children of color whose parents were more likely to be “essential workers” and unable to help with schoolwork during the lockdown.
Further, commentators have long held that the learning gap has consequences that could last for a lifetime, and the ongoing pandemic seems to be accelerating its impact, and perhaps worsening it.
Here’s what Edsurge had to say about the issue: “The digital divide impacts more than homework and grades, King explained. It has reverberations throughout the higher education and workforce pipelines, too. Students use the internet to research prospective colleges, apply to them, file for federal financial aid and scholarships, apply to jobs and internships, and more.
Although the full extent of the pandemic’s influence on the digital divide—and student learning—is not yet known, there is no doubt that the difficulty of conducting lessons entirely in a virtual environment has taken its toll.
SUMMER AS A TIME TO CATCH UP
Summer presents an opportunity for students to start anew, rather than using the first few weeks of the fall to catch up. This summer is especially pivotal because it can help set the stage for a more fruitful 2020–2021 academic year.
Here are three things to consider when thinking about summer learning this year:
- Use this summer to close the digital divide and achievement gap. Summer presents an opportunity to close both the digital divide and the achievement gap, both of which have been exacerbated by events unfolding over the last few months. Many students without digital access can be equipped with distance learning tools in preparation for the upcoming semester. With their new access, they can also participate in online learning programs to catch up on work they may have missed during the school year. Math skills are an especially important area where students can see gains, and mobile apps can be used alongside instructors to help students learn additional skills and help ready for the next academic year.
- Summer learning will give some educators the opportunity to improve on their virtual instruction skills. Most teachers were thrust into a remote environment unexpectedly and without adequate professional development training, experience, or preparation. Summer can serve as a trial period where teachers finetune their approaches and lessons as they gain more experience working with students virtually. Online summer instruction will also give students additional experience with learning remotely, helping them develop their independent learning skills and get used to a virtual learning environment without the additional pressures of grades or extra courses they might face during a regular semester.
- Keep students engaged (some might say positively distracted) and help them mentally cope with the pandemic. Students need to enjoy their summer break, and summer learning programs can feel like a chore if they’re not engaging enough. Although there’s important work to cover, the summer is also a good time to be more experimental with students, testing out both concepts and technologies that may be used in the fall.
In support of 2020’s summer learning week, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) put together a resource page for families and educators to get ideas and support for their summer enrichment programs.
Are you planning to offer a summer learning program this year? What will it look like? Do you have any summer learning resource you’d like to share with other educators and caregivers? We’d love to hear all about your summer learning plans in the comments section below.