It is not helpful to talk about children’s “learning loss” during lockdown: they and their parents learned a lot

The term “learning loss,” which refers to what students are thought not to have learned as a result of the pandemic lockdowns, has been used extensively in the media and in government documents.

However, labeling a generation of schoolchildren as suffering from “learning loss” is likely to affect their self-esteem and self-confidence. They will come out of the education system thinking they are not good enough and somehow academically damaged. In light of their experiences with the pandemic, it seems inappropriate to stigmatize them for their future.

Furthermore, our research shows that the pandemic was a learning period for everyone involved in education. It certainly was not a period in which there was no learning. With this in mind, I would suggest that ‘learning loss’ be known as ‘curricular loss’, to emphasize that what students may have lost is specific learning set out in the school curriculum.

a different education

Our research into educational lockdown experiences in Wales has shown that students, parents and teachers have learned a lot during the pandemic. Pupils between the ages of 5 and 18, along with their parents, their school teachers and leaders from a range of schools in mid Wales, gave us insight into their experience of educational provision and learning during lockdown.

Due to the extended period at home, the children learned many new skills that they may not have had time for before the lockdown. Some learned to chop wood or make bread. Others developed new musical skills by playing the piano and composing, or participated in gardening and cooking activities. One got a license to fly drones. Others developed business skills. A father told us about his son:

He created a candy manufacturing business. He did the costs, sourced and purchased the ingredients, completed a level two online food hygiene course (at his own expense). I found local retailers who were happy to sell on his behalf for a small commission.

Of course, financial difficulties and time constraints faced by many families prevented access to some of these activities. However, the children also gained significant learning by going on family walks, increasing their knowledge of their local areas and habitats, or by participating in home improvements such as building walls and growing plants.

Students learned about themselves, their aptitude for academic work, and the independence needed to work effectively. They valued the ability to work at their own pace and told us that “learning independently became more natural”.

Feedback from teachers and some parents supported this. A teacher told us:

The students who were clearly in the middle of the class did extremely well. I contacted numerous parents to tell them that their son was doing very well. Maybe it was the lack of distractions or the fact that they were made to be more independent or the support of their parents, but some children really thrived in the new working conditions.

For some, though not all, this period became a time to learn about their skills and the requirements to learn. This self-awareness and realization was a vital part of independent learning.

The children acquired skills in independent learning.
Images by Mono Business/Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, participants noted that a greater reliance on online learning significantly developed children’s IT skills. One teacher told us that “students became more digitally competent while learning remotely.”

parent education

The lockdown with their children also turned out to be a learning moment for the parents. They appreciated the opportunity to relearn new knowledge and methods while supporting their children. A teacher said:

The feedback we get […] was that the parents were enjoying learning again […]. They enjoyed having the opportunity to relearn things they had learned in a school and filled their knowledge as well as the students.

Parents got to know their children better and learned more about school life and their children’s learning. “Communication has always been good, but I think communication has really improved so much from the classroom teacher, the support network that she has in the class, and the principals as well,” said one parent.

Parents and teachers learned about the benefits of a closer relationship. The pandemic may have begun to break down barriers, helping some students gain access to resources. As one teacher explained:

Resources and tools have also been a big part of this. We have some students who did not have technology at home. But we were able to order them through the school. For example, I have a son and the family kept saying that we are fine, that we are fine. And he found that the more he talked to the parents, the more he seemed to find that there were problems, but they were reluctant to reveal them. It was easier to talk on the phone for many parents. And if you could develop that relationship with the parents, they would become more open.

Teachers expressed how they had learned more about their students’ home environments and increased their empathy for their home situation.

There was undoubtedly curriculum loss during the pandemic, and our report also shows that many faced significant challenges and diverse ranges of experience. However, there are clear signs that the learning continued. The informal and invisible aspects of learning should not be ignored, dismissed or forgotten.

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