Distance learning: experiences and outlook

Allein mit dem Distanzunterricht – nicht alle Kinder werden von ihren Eltern unterstützt. Foto: PantherMedia / Alla Rudenko

Distance learning: experiences and outlook

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How distance learning can help schools meet the challenges of the Corona crisis was the subject of a survey of school principals throughout Germany. The responses were incorporated into the study “Continuity and Change in Schools in Times of Crisis” (KWiK). Initial results show a positive picture. However, they also make clear that there is a need to catch up. Above all, children from particularly disadvantaged families need more support in distance learning.

The study involves the University of Hamburg, the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel (IPN) and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). First, about 800 principals of elementary and secondary schools in seven German states were surveyed in the summer and early fall of 2020. They were asked to comment on teaching during times of the Corona pandemic and on their experiences and approaches to solving the problem in practice. According to their assessment, communication during the first school closure in spring 2020 with parents and students went largely smoothly. Nearly 40 percent said that all students were reached. About half said 90 percent were reached. Only 3.6 percent of principals reported that less than 80 percent of students were reached.

Teaching materials for distance learning often sent by mail

According to the University of Hamburg, elementary schools largely focused on core subjects when providing instructional materials. They would have transmitted the materials predominantly by analog means, for example, by having them picked up or by sending them by mail. In contrast, lower secondary schools attempted to serve as many subjects as possible. In addition, digital channels such as data exchange portals were used more frequently there for teaching materials. In addition, there was a focus on sending via e-mail.

“In terms of technology and methodology, the schools have found a variety of solutions to the challenges of distance learning,” explains Professor Ingrid Gogolin, an educational scientist and spokesperson for the study. However, she says it was also noticeable that formats that focus on dialogue or collaboration were hardly implemented. “Frontal teaching is experiencing a revival, in some cases by necessity,” Gogolin said.

“The information provided by the surveyed school principals also indicates problems,” according to a press release from the University of Hamburg. About half of the respondents estimated that the majority of parents can support their children in learning at home on a digital device. On the other hand, two-thirds said they felt that up to 20 percent of students did not have the necessary digital equipment for distance learning at home. According to Gogolin’s assessment, children and young people from poor families, with an immigrant background or with special educational needs were reached less well. “They need significantly more support, starting simply with a digital terminal.”

Schools pay attention to disadvantaged children

The study shows that after the initial lockdown, elementary schools tried to compensate for children’s learning deficits by offering additional services. In doing so, they primarily had disadvantaged children in mind. Schools at the lower secondary level had made more offers to promote the IT skills of the students.

According to the studies, almost all schools now feel well equipped for further distance learning. Ninety-seven percent of all principals surveyed said they had prepared for another lockdown after the first pandemic-related school closure. The vast majority are now preparing for further distance learning, according to the University of Hamburg. Study leader Olaf Köller, an educational scientist at Kiel University, is confident: “These findings make us optimistic that schools will also get through the difficult period in spring and summer 2021 well.”

Brigitta Wenninger

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