Most schools across Australia were completely unprepared for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and for moving to virtual learning. Unequal internet access is just the tip of the iceberg of the challenges some students face in doing their schooling online.

A number of studies show that while online courses work well for some and offer little disruption, for others there are major challenges and the disruption is likely to lead to widening gaps in school learning over what would have occurred had they remained in face to face classrooms.

The paper, Commissioned by the Federal Government and the Australian Government's Department of Education, Skills and Employment, looks at the limited available research showing the impact on learning of remote teaching, and models the potential impact for disadvantaged groups. 

The issues that schools confront when it comes to home learning for those who face challenges relate to five key factors:

  1. The gaps in basic resources of families needed to support home learning—the material divide
  2. The gaps in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) resources and knowhow—the digital divide
  3. Students not equally equipped personally for home learning—the skills and dispositions divide
  4. Some parents not well prepared and not able to manage or cope—the parental support divide
  5. Learning adjustments schools use for some students are not suited to home learning arrangements—the adjustments divide

Modelling

The results of this simulation are presented in Table 3. It applies the potential weaker learning in online arrangements to NAPLAN scores based on the length of time students are exposed to online learning—one term through to the full school year. It measures this based on the reported estimates of NAPLAN gains made by students between testing (e.g. from NAPLAN Year 3 to Year 5 between 2017 and 2019) apportioned for the different lengths of time of being required to do online learning.  It is possible to do this to estimate the percentage of learning taking place in a given year that disadvantaged Australian students can expect to lose for each school term.

Table 3  Estimated impact of online learning on NAPLAN Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 reading and numeracy for disadvantaged students: measured in NAPLAN scores

 

Length of time in online learning

 

1 term

2 terms

3 terms

Full school year

 

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Year 3

-2.0

-3.4

-4.0

-6.8

-6.0

-10.2

-8.0

-13.6

Year 5

-1.6

-3.1

-3.3

-6.2

-4.9

-9.3

-6.6

-12.3

Year 7

-1.6

-3.5

-3.1

-6.9

-4.7

-10.4

-6.3

-13.9

Year 9

-1.1

-1.8

-2.2

-3.7

-3.2

-5.5

-4.3

-7.3

Note: The estimates assume a linear impact of online delivery on student learning until Year 7. Additional research may reveal that the impact is in fact greater in Year 3 than in Year 7.

 

Table 4  Estimates of the loss due to online delivery in NAPLAN expressed as percentages (%)

 

1 term

2 terms

3 terms

1 year

 

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Year 5

3.8

6.7

7.6

13.4

11.5

20.0

15.3

26.7

Year 9

5.7

8.3

11.5

16.7

17.2

25.0

22.9

33.3

Note:   these estimates are calculated by converting the estimates of absolute NAPLAN points lost into percentages of learning taking placed in the year leading up to the NAPLAN test by taking the NAPLAN learning gains made between two consecutive NAPLAN tests (e.g. gains made between NAPLAN Year 3 and NAPLAN Year 5 tests for the Year 5 estimates) as the reference of NAPLAN gains (see ACARA, 2019).

 

Table 7     Estimated NAPLAN Year 9 reading and numeracy score point impact of online delivery on disadvantaged students (NAPLAN 2019 score points)

 

1 term

2 terms

3 terms

Full school year

 

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Low-SES

-1.1

-1.8

-2.2

-3.7

-3.2

-5.5

-4.3

-7.3

Indigenous

-1.2

-2.0

-2.5

-4.0

-3.7

-6.1

-5.0

-8.1

LBOTE

-0.4

-0.7

-0.8

-1.4

-1.2

-2.2

-1.6

-2.9

Remote Australia

-1.1

-1.8

-2.1

-3.7

-3.2

-5.5

-4.2

-7.3

Very remote Australia

-1.0

-1.8

-1.9

-3.7

-2.9

-5.5

-3.8

-7.3

 

Table 8     Equivalent school week estimates of loss due to online delivery in NAPLAN learning gains typically made by disadvantaged students by Year 9

 

1 term

2 terms

3 terms

Full school year

 

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Reading

Numeracy

Low-SES

2.3

3.3

4.6

6.7

6.9

10.0

9.2

13.3

Indigenous

2.3

3.2

4.7

6.5

7.0

9.7

9.4

13.0

LBOTE

0.8

1.6

1.6

3.2

2.4

4.8

3.1

6.4

Note:   learning gain estimates for Indigenous students and LBOTE students are provided in NAPLAN annual reports (ACARA, 2019). Learning gain estimates use the source previously cited. Since no information on the NAPLAN Years 7-9 learning gains made by students in remote or very remote schools is available, this group is omitted from the table.

Authors

Stephen Lamb
Director, Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES)

Quentin Maire
Research Fellow, Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES)

Esther Doecke
Research Fellow, Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES)

Kate Noble
Education Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute

Sarah Pilcher
Education Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute

Sergio Macklin
Deputy Lead of Education Policy, Mitchell Institute