Two in three year 10 students in the ACT and other states with lengthy lockdown periods say their learning suffered as a consequence of COVID-19, a study led by the Australian National University (ANU) found.
According to the first wave of the 10-year Generation study, 66 per cent of students in the ACT, NSW and Victoria said the pandemic hampered their learning, while only 39 per cent said they felt prepared for school in 2022.
The study asked students a range of questions about their schooling, career ambitions and personal relationships.
The ANU is conducting the longitudinal study in collaboration with the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Social Research Centre. It is the largest of its kind, examining the experiences of more than 18,000 year 10 students from 300 high schools across the country.
The survey will follow the same cohort of 18,000 young Australians until they are 25.
Lead researcher Professor Ben Edwards from ANU said the result was not a surprise, given the disruption students in these areas have faced.
“Unsurprisingly, students from states and territories that had the longest shutdown during the pandemic – New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory – were more likely to say their schooling progress had been hampered,” Prof Edwards said.
Two-thirds of students from these states and territories reported their learning had suffered, compared with 43 per cent of students in states and territories with low school closures.
“And only 45 per cent of students who experienced high school closures said they had caught up with their learning, compared to 52 per cent of those who had low school closures.
“Clearly, we have a major cohort of young students, who are now coming to the end of their high school education, that we need to make sure are supported to catch up in the vital learning and opportunities they missed during the pandemic.”
The study also found that students from the ACT, NSW and Victoria were more likely to report they had fallen behind on their studies: 26 per cent of students in these areas said they were behind, compared with 20 per cent in states and territories with shorter lockdown periods.
Students with disabilities and students whose parents do not have a university degree were also more likely to have fallen behind.
As highlighted by the most recent ACT Education Directorate annual report, the pandemic continues to affect the Territory’s education system and learning outcomes.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary response had a substantial impact on the ACT education and care sector. Providers and services continue to experience challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff at all levels,” the report said.
“Information shared by schools with the Education Support Office indicated that the extended impact of the pandemic was visible to different degrees on some individuals and some groups of students, particularly in the early years,” it also said.
The reduction in the equity gap between the most advantaged and less advantaged students in numeracy and literacy in 2022 suggests the sustained duration of the pandemic has had a more significant impact on the numeracy learning of less advantaged students in the ACT.
“The response of our schools has been to increase efforts to personalise learning to meet the needs of these students,” the report said.
However, given the sector is facing staffing shortages, this is a challenge.
“The significant long-term effects of COVID-19 have meant that many schools have been in a state of constant uncertainty. Teachers have needed to prepare for, and continually reflect on, how to best meet the needs of their students under significant stressors related to teacher shortage,” the report noted.
Last year, an inquiry into the Territory’s pandemic response also recommended that the ACT Government further extend and increase funding for school psychologists due to “long-term collective stress experienced by children during COVID-19”, noting that demand is currently outstripping supply and “the tail end of COVID-19 stress is likely to last for several years”.