Sunday, March 14, 2021

Depriving Children of In-Class Learning

Surely, it is the question of the hour. How much damage will the loss of school time do to children? How much damage will the lockdowns, the closed schools, the use of remote and Zoom learning do to children around the world?

Dare we say that we do not know the answer to a certainty. And yet, we do have some indications, and they are discouraging.

Andrew Jack and Bethan Staton reported for the Financial Times (link unavailable). 

The principal of a Nashville school told them that her pupils were 10 to 15% below grade level. The story is certainly not limited to Nashville. Children learning remotely are falling behind. Certainly, poor children, and children without internet access or without engaged parents are falling further behind.

As staff at Strive Collegiate Academy in Nashville get ready for the school’s reopening this month, principal La-Kendra Butler is grappling with the best way to support pupils after a traumatic year in which their education was thrown into chaos by the pandemic.

“Our students are performing 10-15 per cent below the level a year ago,” said Butler. “Right now I’m prioritising their time during the school day and making sure we’re focused on bringing them back . . . [but] longer-term we need to look at how to do school differently. We can’t go back to the status quo.”

A study from Great Britain assesses the damage:

“Covid has been the largest disruption to education in history,” said Per Engzell, a researcher at the Oxford Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science in the UK.

 “Ninety-five per cent of children were affected and in many countries schools have remained closed since [last] March. It’s totally unprecedented.”

Using detailed testing in the Netherlands, his team has identified an “alarming” average loss of learning equivalent in that country to one-fifth of the academic year — the entire period students were out of school in 2020.

And, from Australia:

Jonathon Guy, research officer at the Australian Education Union, said the learning loss was even more marked for children from marginalised communities and disadvantaged groups.

“Demographic factors, low levels of prior achievement and a lack of access to technology are the main concerns,” he said. Surveys in Australia and other countries suggest widespread disparities in access to computers, affordable internet, safe places to learn and supportive home environments.

Other researchers are estimating the cost in lifetime earnings:

Luke Sibieta, a researcher at the UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies, has estimated that British pupils could lose a combined £350bn over their lives as a result of missed education during lock-down. According to a forecast by the World Bank, globally the loss could be as much as $10tn if effective policy responses were not introduced.

Naturally, the question now is whether the children will ever catch up. Is the deficit temporary or permanent? One understands that teachers’ unions in America insist that children are so resilient that they will easily recover the lost learning, but we also know that children who have been deprived of in-class learning, of socialization with their friends and of their life outside the home have been suffering a multitude of serious mental health issues. There is no cause for optimism here.

One researcher explained that it is not a good idea to promote children to the next grade, regardless. And that it is a bad idea to hold them back to participate in classes with children who are younger. He believes that the answer is tutoring:

David Steiner, head of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in the US, who led a review of “catch-up” techniques for Unesco, said the evidence was against strategies that promoted students automatically to the next grade regardless of the gaps in their learning or got them to retake the entire year with a younger class. Instead, he called for “acceleration” programmes to test students and focus on missing skills essential to the next stage of study.

Butler is also exploring more use of tutoring, an approach that has garnered attention around the world, including in a £1.7bn package in Britain.

Undoubtedly it is a bit of a stretch, but psychologists have been studying the impact of institutional deprivation on children’s development. They have used the example of Romania where the dictator Ceausescu placed young children in institutions where they were systematically left alone, where they had little to no adult contact, where their cries were ignored.

Admittedly, this is far more radical than what is happening the schoolchildren who are not allowed to go to school, but we should wonder what online learning will have on children who are deprived of most social contact by the lockdowns. One must emphasize that American children subjected to online learning normally would have had a parent present, but that feels slightly optimistic. Some parents are obliged to work. Some parents do not spend very much time with their children. Some parents allow the computer screen to function as a babysitter.

We know that the Romanian children were seriously damaged by deprivation. The issue addressed in a Psypost report on the most recent research was—how well did these children recover from their deprivation? How well did they recover when they were adopted by wealthy British families? Were they resilient or did the damage seem permanent? 

Christian Rigg summarizes the research:

In the 1980s, a large number of Romanian children were exposed to long-term, institutional deprivation under the communist dictator Ceaușescu. Many of them were subsequently adopted into affluent British families. Their neurological and psychological wellbeing has been followed in the context of the English and Romanian Adoptees study.

He continues:

A recent paper by a team of English and Danish researchers published in Psychological Medicine made use of the data in this study to examine the effects of childhood deprivation on a variety of neurological functions, including IQ, inhibitory control, prospective memory, emotion recognition and decision-making.

Note the phrase—lasting neurological consequences:

Their findings are interesting not only because they provide further evidence for an already well-established relation between childhood deprivation and lasting neurological consequences well into adulthood, but in particular because certain symptoms were found to exist regardless of the duration of deprivation. Indeed, duration of deprivation was “not significantly correlated with any neuropsychological outcome.”

Researchers have long known that the early environment influences brain development. The 30,000,000 word rule, devised by Chicago researcher Dana Suskind, showed that cognitive development was directly correlated with the number of spoken words a child heard in his first three years of life. She discovered that while the children of the rich heard 30,000,000 words, the children of the poor heard 6,000,000.

Obviously, this offers a constructive approach to improving cognitive ability. Equally obvious, the differential bespeaks a level of deprivation and neglect.

Rigg continues to explain the research on the Romanian children:

“This study contributes to our changing understanding of the power of the early environment to shape brain development -showing that the effects of institutional deprivation on cognition can still be seen after more than twenty years of positive experience in high functioning and loving adoptive families leads us to acknowledge that there are limits to the brain’s recuperative powers,” said study author Edmund Sonuga-Barke.

So, under extreme conditions there are limits to the brain’s power to recuperate. I would even contend that American parents know this intuitively. After all, some 80% of them want their children to go back to school. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is colluding with the teachers’ unions to create cognitive deficiencies that probably not be fully recovered.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I would like to see the Teachers' Unions defenestrated, disbanded, and disabled.