After the rapid shift from in-person to online learning in 2020, students were forced into isolation coupled with online learning. Because of this, many students have fallen behind academically, socially and mentally.
In many ways, students are lagging behind in different subjects based on their online learning efficiency. According to a article of the New York Times, one of those areas that many students are lagging behind is reading. This drastic change in the reading ability of students who had to try to learn it online has left teachers struggling to figure out how to account for more than a year of learning made difficult by COVID-19.
Rebecca Swartz, an assistant professor of teaching and learning, said she thinks the pandemic presents many challenges for students due to the sudden collapse of structure and socialization.
“The year and a half that many children were learning remotely – especially distance learning [and] especially for young children, it was a very difficult time because the social situation and the routines were so different,” Swartz said. “Many of them have left their usual child care situation and were at home [and] they had no peer interactions, so when we all got back to class, the kids had to relearn how to interact in real life.
Swartz also said the lack of hands-on learning hurts many students because they can’t always engage with their parents in online learning.
“For a lot of kids, they needed adult support and their adults weren’t necessarily able to sit with them and do Zoom learning. Young children are practical learners, right now, social-relational learners, and for a lot of children that has led to developmental delays,” Swartz said.
Now that schools are mostly back in person, Swartz said much of the responsibility falls on teachers and parents to help get students back into the learning space and re-engage them in learning.
“What we see in classrooms are teachers who need to fix, and parents [also] need to fix that time and provide those experiences for young children. These are both academic and social,” Swartz said.
Natasha Flowers, director of the elementary education program and assistant dean of the School of Education, Health, and Human Behavior for Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion, works with the State of Illinois to help solve this problem. A program offered by the Illinois Higher Board of Education, the Illinois Tutoring Initiative, aims to help K-12 students catch up in school after being impacted by the pandemic.
Due to the nature of online learning, Flowers said she believes it benefits and harms children based on how they learn.
“There are certainly children who flourished in the traditional school space, then with the pandemic [and] loss of socialization, socialization and structure, [it] really hurt them emotionally. There are also children who needed more individual support [and] may not be getting that in the school setting, and there were opportunities in one of the worst times in our history, medically and physically, where kids were absolutely getting more one-on-one attention,” Flowers said.
However, regardless of their age, many students suddenly felt the aftereffects of the pandemic shortly after returning to school. According to a article from Pew Charitable Trusts, many teachers have seen changes in students with more disruptive behavior and poor mental health much more apparent than before. This shift was caused by the lack of connection many students felt to the structure they had before.
As a mother herself, Flowers said she heard similar concerns from her kids in high school and college.
“For them, collectively, it was a struggle because they were in sports, they were into other activities…and I think for all of them, they felt a sense of disconnection from their friends that they cared about and from their teachers and favorite teachers. I think it was tough for them,” Flowers said. “They try to tell me they hate school, but they don’t, they love school.”