Kia ora tātou,
In this edition of ERO Insights we focus on our recent experiences as a system under the lockdown period, explore some of the challenges that we face going forward as educators and provide some observations about how we might sustain some of the innovation that occurred during Alert Levels 3 and 4. While health considerations remain, the real challenges for our system and the conversations we need to be having are about education and quality teaching and learning!
ERO made the most of the time under Levels 3 and 4, supporting the all-of-government response. ERO staff were posted to the National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) and worked closely with the Ministry of Education to support the education sector in a number of ways. This included leading the work to set up and run Home Learning TV | Papa Kāinga TV. Under Levels 3 and 4, it provided in-home learning for the roughly 100,000 households that could not easily access online learning from their schools. We had a great team of teachers from across the sector who assisted with the development and the quality checking of the lessons that went to air. Feedback from the sector, from learners and from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. It is also being used in ways we never expected, from grand-mums and -dads using the te reo lessons, to teachers using segments in their own lessons. The channel also aired across the Pacific to support island nations, which equally had their education systems disrupted. The lessons will remain on TVNZ on Demand through to the end of the year, and the lesson plans associated with these lessons can be obtained from the Ministry’s Learning From Home website.
The two months at Alert Levels 3 and 4 forced us all to work in different ways. Through this time, ERO has had a key focus on capturing the innovations that help us be better educators. As we come out of this period, ERO wants to work with the sector to capture the lessons learnt and share these widely with the sector. Recent months have seen both New Zealand and other countries fast track our understanding and deployment of digital and remote teaching and learning. While we have achieved much throughout this period, it has clearly brought into focus real concerns about the digital divide which exists across our communities. It has also highlighted the need for a stronger curation of online teaching resources, guidance around effective teaching practices using digital and online platforms, and the strategies required to keep learners engaged in self-directed learning.
In assessing how well both students and teachers were managing learning during COVID-19, we surveyed students and teachers across a representative sample of schools. The surveys were conducted early in Term 2 under Levels 3 and 4 requirements. Overall, both learners and teachers were positive about their experience, but this was far from universal. Some learners faced significant practical challenges in accessing remote learning or the support they needed. One in five students told us they didn’t enjoy learning at home. This was particularly true for older students, boys compared with girls, and those that had no or limited access to digital devices and connectivity. Most notable from this survey was the absolute dedication of the profession to continue to support their students and colleagues through this difficult period. Teachers have done a fantastic job given what has been thrown at them!
We outline the high-level findings in the article below ‘Learning from home positive overall, but challenges remain for older students’. The full report is available now on the ERO website: COVID-19: Learning in Lockdown.
With students returning to school, the last few weeks have focussed on re-establishing relationships and school routines. Most of the students we have heard from wanted to be back at school. Ensuring that students, particularly those at risk, re-engage with school and learning is a key priority across the system. Going forward it will also be about supporting students to catch-up on what they have missed out on, particularly in relation to foundational skills and knowledge.
Most of the teachers we surveyed reported that they were concerned that their students’ learning may not have progressed while they were away from school and that it was very hard to monitor engagement and progress, or to provide individualised feedback. There is a strong body of research that points to the so-called “summer time” effect where student learning regresses during long absences from school. This has been shown internationally and in New Zealand to disproportionately impact learners from poorer communities. Recent research out of the US also shows us that learning may also have a seasonal dimension to it, with the first half of the year being particularly important. Given the different experiences of students, even within the same school or class, this will clearly place real demands on teachers in terms of clarifying the status of individual learners, what needs to be done to recover lost learning and adopting differentiated teaching strategies to address what may be enhanced differences between students.
For some students, their experiences while at home and the economic impacts of COVID-19 are also likely to impact learner wellbeing, with many more learners coming from families impacted by greater economic insecurity and jobs losses. This may also place greater demands on their remaining in part-time employment. Equally important will be focusing on the wellbeing of school staff.
Maintaining and building on some of the innovation from this recent period is important to how we shape the future of teaching and learning and deciding which practices we should fast track.
The last few months have seen rapid adoption of and upskilling in the use of digital technologies in teaching and learning, whether it has been teaching over Zoom, Google Classroom or the myriad other platforms that have been used. This has been complemented by the rapid establishment within and across schools of online community platforms. Ninety percent of teachers in our recent survey told us that they were able to teach remotely using digital platforms. While not directly comparable, the 2018 OECD TALIS survey had around 75% of New Zealand “lower secondary teachers” reporting that they felt they could support student learning through information and communication technologies. As stated above, the important considerations going forward are ensuring that we address equity consideration and the digital divide that exists in our schools and classrooms. It also requires that we have strategies to maintain engagement and motivation among learners who may struggle to self-regulate or have limited meta-cognitive strategies when learning through these mediums.
We must also pay attention to the pedagogical model and instructional practices embedded within many digital teaching approaches. Over recent months, many of us have explored what is available in terms of online teaching resources and how they are being used. There is a lot of material out there. Much of it can be labelled “edutainment”, meaning it might have high entertainment value, but it does not necessarily deliver on specific learning intentions or support deep learning. A lot of the digital resources in support of teaching are also poorly curated “one-offs” and don’t naturally support learning progression or tailoring to the needs of individual learners. Furthermore, many of these online resources don’t reflect the distinctive culture and history of New Zealand, or link strongly to the NZC. Lastly, some of it is “dead boring” in comparison to the interactivity of a social media platform or an online game.
If we address some of these issues, there are opportunities in partnership with classroom teachers to deliver content (for example, te reo Māori or science modules) which to date have proved major challenges for schools.
For many teachers, the lockdown period saw a much closer working relationship with parents in support of student learning. Using online channels, including YouTube, many teachers and principals worked to share lesson materials and learning intentions with parents, provide advice and guidance about lesson content and follow up on parents’ questions and challenges.
Parents also came to better understand the challenges that teachers face through this experience. Given what we know about the importance of parent and whānau partnerships, maintaining and building on this partnership in learning will be an important consideration for schools and teachers as we come out of this COVID-19 period, and work to address the challenges to learning which I have described here.
Ngā mihi nui,
Chief Review Officer