Lernen im Ausnahmezustand - Risiken und Chancen
The project „Learning in a state of emergency” pursued two research questions that emerged with the first school closures in Spring 2020 already: (1) Are the burdens and negative impacts of school closures distributed unevenly along the lines of social inequality and do they exacerbate the unequal distribution of access to education in Austria? (2) Does home learning offer new options for self-organisation, self-determination and innovative formats of learning?
The study surveyed 503 students and 257 parents (614 families in all) and 141 teachers from eleven schools of varied types at three points in time: during the school closures in April, during the partial re-opening of Schools in May and June 2020, and in a summarising survey before the summer holidays. In addition, we conducted expert interviews with social workers, integration teachers and other social service professionals who supported disadvantaged and marginalised families. To render suggestions for innovations in schools more concrete, we established a “students’ council” recruited from survey participants and discussed and validated results with this group. We drew conclusions in a joint manifesto, publicly presented in November 2020.
The results of the study show that indeed, burdens and challenges of home learning were distributed unequally. Learning difficulties, and a sense of overburdening and insecurity were reported disproportionately by students from lower-skilled families, those speaking several languages at home, and children of single parents. More surprisingly, students older than 14 years as well as girls and young women were also facing more strain. The disadvantaged groups fared notably better once schools were partially reopened, and the gaps compared with more favoured students decreased. Among parents, the lower-skilled reported higher burdens, the same applied to mothers working from home. Indeed, mothers’ home office work was not well compatible with children’s home learning. Teachers were not well prepared to teach remotely: Fewer than half had used platforms in teaching previously, and fewer than half of the teachers in the sample aimed to continue their use. Teachers were very aware of the unequal impacts of distance learning, and often tried to focus support on disadvantaged and weaker students.
For improvements of school and learning in the light of the school closure experience, students, parents and teachers agreed that both more autonomy and self-organisation and more individualised support were needed. Both cannot be substituted by digital learning but are indispensable prerequisites for it.