Study shows the shift to online learning in the pandemic had damaging consequences for many children – especially those whose parents had to go out to work and could not supervise them.
In 2020, the COVID pandemic triggered a major change in education. Schools all over the world had to switch from in-school to online learning. Lacking experience in using technology for learning, children had to meet their teachers and classmates for the first time via the screen, be that a laptop, iPad, or phone screen.
Similarly, on the other side of the screen, were teachers who had little or no training on how to integrate technology into their teaching.
Both parties faced tremendous challenges, imposing the need for increased parental involvement. But many parents had to work at the same time as their children were attending online classes.
Data from our study indicate that parents often struggled with their children’s online learning, and few saw any positive effects on their children’s education.
They also think that their children could not express themselves as much as they should both because of the noise and technological problems, which suggests that curriculum expectations could not be met.
Pressing need for parental involvement
The age of seven is very important for children; this is when they reach their “intellectual revolution”, according to Wood in 1998. This is also when children in Kosovo enroll in first grade.
The renowned Russian pedagogue Lev Vygotsky focused on the outside factors that affect children’s development, such as social environment, emphasizing the role of experts and quality of their support offered to young learners.
He explained that learning occurs as a result of an interaction between children and parents/teachers.
But many parents in Kosovo in the pandemic were not able to use technology, or even have basic knowledge of it, especially in rural areas.
In these areas there were problems with unstable internet connections, power shortages and insufficient devices for all the children.
Data from studies indicate that the lack of suitable conditions for a stable environment in which children could get the most from their teachers during the first year of education caused stress among parents, too – especially those who were trying to balance working at home and parenting.
Unsupervised pupils often did not learn at all
During first grade, children in Kosovo typically attend school for about three hours daily, with four classes of 45 minutes each.
On the other hand, the number of students in classes is often large, so the teachers usually cannot pay attention for more than a few minutes to each child.
During online learning, teaching and learning was even more difficult owing to shortened classes of about two hours in total.
One mother who supervised her child while working from home put it this way: “Online learning limits the opportunity to be actively involved in classes; it is difficult for the teacher to maintain order, as all the children tend to talk at the same time. Sometimes this lack of order leads to my child not being involved even though he is well prepared and knows the answer. Children are very loud.”
However, she also accepted that, despite the difficulties, “online learning has now become an accepted phenomenon, so we try to coordinate our work with our son’s school schedule”.
While this mother had the ability to adjust her own work schedule with that of her child, many other parents could not do so.
They had to go to work, and as a result their children did not have the needed parental supervision during online learning. For many of these children, parents going to work meant no online lessons at all.
“If my child is unsupervised, he cannot access online learning. His sitter does not have experience with technology and can’t help him. So if I or his father are not with him, he cannot participate in online classes,” said another parent who is an essential staff member at her organization and had always to be physically present at work.
Knowing that their child will suffer consequences because of their absence was a stressful experience for many parents, in addition to the stress caused to their child.
In short, lack of parental participation in online learning means lack of learning, and children lagging behind.
Parents have to find other solutions to help their children cope with this situation and make progress in learning.
Based on our data, this situation created a general perception among parents and the community that online learning did not have a positive effect in learning. It is not surprising that the overwhelming majority prefer learning to take place physically in schools.
“Online learning did not have a positive effect during this pandemic. The negative effects it had in reading and writing are noticed now during their physical presence at school,” said one parent, explaining how her family dealt with their child’s learning difficulties during online learning.
“A lot of work is required from the parents. During my child’s first grade, I employed a support teacher for my child during the second semester,” she added.
Ministry did try to ease problems
The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, MESTI, did attempt to ease these obstacles and make it easier for children to access learning.
It drafted an instruction for three potential scenarios during the pandemic: Scenario A, learning in schools; Scenario B, combined learning – at distance and physical presence at school; and, Scenario C, online learning.
During Scenario C, except for the online learning with their teachers using the E-learning platform, Google classroom or other platforms, lessons were delivered via Kosovo National Television, RTK.
Beside this, MESTI also drafted instructions for teaching, evaluation, and specific instructions for children with special needs.
However, there is no data on student participation in online learning or on their achievements during the pandemic in general, and in 2020 more specifically.
Considering the effect of the pandemic and the inability of children to participate in online learning due to the reasons mentioned, and many more, large-scale research is needed to get real data on children’s participation, to shed light on the impact of online learning on first-grade children.
This is crucial not only to get a clear picture of the experience of online learning so far – but also to gain lessons about best practices that could help deal with similar emergencies in future.
Nora Nimani Musa is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and a researcher at Jahjaga foundation.
The article is part of a research project produced within the framework of Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowship, supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.