Trinity College Dublin: Substantial inequalities in children’s engagement with remote schooling during first lockdown

A new study led by a sociologist at Trinity College Dublin has shown that Irish primary school children were more engaged with remote schooling during the first Covid-19 lockdown if they had access to adequate digital technologies and had help from parents and teachers.

The first Covid-19 lockdown in Spring 2020 resulted in the greatest disruption to children’s schooling in generations in Ireland and was a time of rapid and unexpected transition from in-person to distance learning. Schools in Ireland were closed for 141 days, which was one of the longest school closures across rich countries at the time.

The study, led by Yekaterina Chzhen, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, is the first nationwide study in Ireland investigating primary school children’s experiences of remote schooling.

Dr Chzhen and her colleagues analysed school children’s emotional engagement with remote schooling. The research was based on survey responses from nearly 400 children aged 8-9 years from 71 primary schools across Ireland who took part in the Children’s School Lives Study surveys both before the pandemic (May-August 2019) and during the pandemic (May-July 2020).

They found that children with greater resources for home schooling reported higher levels of engagement. Doing schoolwork on a computer, being able to get help with schoolwork if worried and having schoolwork checked by a teacher were all associated with higher engagement with remote schooling.

Having resources for home learning is essential. This includes not only equipment such as computers or laptops rather than smartphones or tablets, but also being able to get help with their school work when they were worried about it.

The study, which has just been published online in the journal Child Indicators Research, also found that children who struggled to engage with schooling before the pandemic found it harder to cope with remote learning. This was the case in particular for children who had higher teacher-reported hyperactivity and inattention scores prior to the pandemic.

Our findings show that engaging with remote schooling is not equally easy for all children and that children who liked school before the pandemic also coped better with online learning. This study contributes to the wider debate on the social impacts of COVID-19 and the growing body of evidence on inequalities in children’s schooling during the pandemic.

This research was conducted in collaboration with colleagues from University College Dublin, University of St Andrews and the University of Bristol. They are members of the new Interdisciplinary Child Well-Being Network, funded under the ESRC-IRC UK-Ireland Social Science Networking Awards.

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