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Connection, Connectivity, and Choice: Learning During Covid-19 Restrictions across Mainstream Schools and Flexible Learning Programs in Australia
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated school closures may have constrained educational participation particularly for students in disadvantaged circumstances. During interviews with 30 disadvantaged students in secondary school (14 mainstream/16 Flexible Learning Program) from Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania, we explored three interconnected themes impacting home-based learning: connection; connectivity; and choice.
Connection captures the desire for belongingness, and the practices and strategies that facilitated meeting these needs during times of disruption to school routines, and face-to-face learning. It is based in the understanding that schools are more than sites of knowledge transfer, providing opportunities for personal growth in supportive peer and mentoring relations. We found that still feeling part of a school community relied on frequent contact between teachers and students, often leveraging meaningful relations that were built prior to the pandemic.
Connectivity captures the impact of digital, remote, or home-based learning on students’ ability to keep up with the curriculum. Factors are the provision of material resources needed to access digital content, digital literacy, and stable internet connection. Even when internet capable devices were provided, living in a remote location with poor connectivity, sharing devices in a household, or difficulties in making use of digital resources all had the potential to interfere with successful home-based learning if appropriate support strategies were not implemented.
Choice captures the flexibility afforded to students and their families to learn in a way that works for them. Here, we often heard that students appreciated being able to ‘learn at their own pace,’ being provided with hardcopies to learn, if connectivity issues could not be resolved, and the notion of responsibility for their own learning. We found that Flexible Learning Program students were generally better positioned to make choices, possibly because they were socialised to be self-paced learners prior to the pandemic. Flexible Learning Programs appeared able to draw on an educational infrastructure that was well aligned with responsiveness to individual students’ support needs. Findings indicate a need for strengthening student-centred policy and practices aimed at leveraging the affordances of information technology, balancing self-directed and structured learning, and providing holistic support to enable meaningful student choice. We conclude that the lessons learnt during COVID-19 restrictions point to potential strategies that would benefit the educational participation and attainment of secondary school students experiencing complex social disadvantage more broadly.
Publication titleLife Course Centre Working Paper Series
Commissioning bodyInstitute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland
Department/SchoolPeter Underwood Centre
PublisherInstitute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland
Place of publicationAustralia