Primary school kids still struggling with Covid-related learning delays
Over two years since the government closed schools in the first coronavirus lockdown, primary school pupils still face significant delays in arithmetic, mathematics, and spelling. However, their comprehensive reading is back to pre-Covid levels, according to researchers in the National Education Cohort Study (NCO), NRC reports.
The average delay for maths is ten weeks per school year - a quarter of the total school year, according to the researchers. Pupils struggle to catch up in this subject, Carla Haelermans, research leader at the NCO and professor of educational economics at Maastricht University, said to the newspaper. "If you miss a certain piece of basic knowledge in arithmetic and mathematics, it will haunt you. Then you cannot properly link new knowledge to what you should have learned earlier."
Little catching up was done in the second year of the pandemic because the school year was also "messy," Haelermans said. Many classes were sent home in the fall and winter, and lots of schools struggled with teacher shortages. "Make-up programs often could not go ahead because there were no people to do it," she said.
Remarkably, the researchers found that pupils with lower-educated parents are making up their delays faster than pupils with higher-educated parents. When schools first closed, the consequences were most visible among pupils with lower-educated parents who couldn't always help them with their schoolwork at home. Children with higher-educated parents also struggled, but much less. Now the picture has switched, the researchers said.
"The differences between pupils have become smaller. This time for the benefit of the group of vulnerable pupils," Healermans said. She thinks this is because of focused attention on the vulnerable group. "At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, we saw that inequality between students was increasing rapidly. Schools have responded to this by investing a lot of time and energy in this group."
"And that is good news, but at the same time, we see that children of higher-educated parents now have greater learning delays," Haelermans said. She suspects that this is because, in their efforts to get pupils with the greatest delays back on track, schools may have unintentionally lowered the entire class's level. "Because of the focus on pupils with the most delay, other pupils may not have been challenged enough." She added that many parents who did their utmost to help with education during the first school closures no longer had time or energy to do so in the second coronavirus year. That may also have played a role.