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Education and Covid-19: five needs that must be met to provide vital learning lifelines for children and teachers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 October 2020

Vagner-Xaruto / Pixabay

Rose Luckin.

The latest reports from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have some interesting lessons for the UK as we all try to ensure that pandemic compliant teaching and learning are effective wherever they happen: at home, at school on the bus or in the park.

Yes, the data is from 2018, but the dramatic changes we are going through are unlikely to invalidate the learning we can and must glean. Critical links in our education ecosystem are missing and that breaks what could be a learning lifeline for students, but it’s not just the technology that learners lack, it’s the human touch too.

We already know that the pandemic has highlighted discrepancies in access to technology. However, the PISA data shine a light on ways in which we are not meeting some of the basic student needs that must be met for effective remote learning.

There is general agreement that learners need four key things in order to stand a chance of learning remotely if and when they are unable to attend school, and the PISA data provides some support for a fifth need that I have long felt to be significant and that is all too often overlooked:

  • Firstly, they need their own personal computing device that works and is relatively modern;
  • Secondly, they need reliable connectivity to allow them to access the Internet as needed;
  • Thirdly, the school needs effective online teaching resources to meet the needs of the student;
  • Fourthly, students need a place to study that is conducive to the process of studying.
  • The Fifth Need: students need teachers whose use of technology is effective and students need to feel that their educational efforts are valued.

In terms of the first and second need, the UK does well in comparison to many other OECD countries: 96% of students in advantaged schools in the UK said they had a computer for schoolwork at home. However, there is inequality, with only 88% of students in disadvantaged schools responding that they too have a computer at home for schoolwork. Similarly, broadband internet access is comparable to more affluent OECD countries, but it is still very patchy in the UK. We certainly should do better, and we must keep up the pressure to ensure that every student has access to a well-connected personal computer at home.

However, the third need is not well met. The OECD data reveals that three in four students attending schools described as advantaged had headteachers who reported that there was an effective online learning platform, while fewer than one in two students in disadvantaged schools had such provision.

In the UK, 74% of students attend a school with an effective online learning platform, but this is the case for only 43% of students studying at a disadvantaged school. Across the OECD countries an average of 59% of students in advantaged schools attended schools with an effective online platform compared to an average of 49% of students in disadvantaged schools. In other words, the UK is 15% above the average for the provision of effective online platforms in advantaged schools, but sadly 6% below the OECD average for students disadvantaged schools.

We need to learn from this and place as much energy in stressing the need for an effective online environment as we do for a personal computer for every student. A good online platform is important for all students, but particularly so for students who do not have good educational support from within the home context, when it can be a vital learning lifeline.

Meeting the fourth need, an appropriate place to study, is not so easy for those outside the home to provide. However, there are ways we can help. For example, the PISA report illustrates that countries where there were a larger number of students in schools that offer a homework space for students perform better in reading, maths and science even after accounting for per capita GDP. An additional factor that might also help to ameliorate the lack of study space experienced by some students is connected to the fifth need.

The Fifth Need really relates to both teachers and learners having their hard work validated by others. For teachers to use digital technology effectively, they need training of course, but crucially, they also need their work to be recognised. The chart here reveals exactly how behind our OECD peers we stand. Many teachers in the UK do not feel incentivised to integrate digital technologies into their teaching. This lack of incentivisation for teachers is likely to reduce their ability to make the best uses of the resources that are available to them, particularly when technology is the medium for the teaching and learning relationship. It may well also reduce teachers’ ability to provide students with that all-important validation for their efforts to learn.


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One Response to “Education and Covid-19: five needs that must be met to provide vital learning lifelines for children and teachers”

  • 1
    Mara Martini wrote on 11 November 2020:

    To enable student’s learning remotely during Covid-19 school closures, Professor Luckin lists four key technology needs of students that must be met. The generally agreed upon list succinctly covers the students’ needs and teachers’ role. She fittingly uses the 2018 PISA data to compare the UK to other OECD countries in their progress towards meeting these needs. She also suggests a “fifth need” and states that the PISA results provide some support for it. Besides these five needs, though, could the preparation of parents be added to the list? For example, parents may need technical training in how to connect to various learning platforms, especially if their children attend different schools. Very young children may have difficulty connecting remotely and remaining online. In “Parents’ Experiences with Remote Education during COVID-19 School Closures”,* one parent asked for help on “..how to use the many, many different websites, and how to submit to the teacher.” Another parent stated “All of the online resources are in different places, very spread out and hard to keep track of having multiple platforms of receiving and doing school work all on different sites.” More broadly, the authors claim that parents and guardians are one of the major stakeholders in children’s education and that they contribute significantly to their children’s success in the remote learning environment. Granted, they only had a small sample of 122 parents in Wisconsin, USA but their survey was taken in spring 2020 after students had already begun remote learning. Returning to PISA 2018, it claims that one factor associated with academic resilience is support from parents.
    * Garbe, A., Ogurlu, U., Logan, N., & Cook, P. (2020) American Journal of Qualitative Research, 4(3), 45-65.