How remote learning has affected Australian children

Published on Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Last updated on Monday, 22 November 2021

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Remote learning wasn’t an experience many families were familiar with prior to 2020. As parents, the normal routine was to send kids off to school each day and encourage homework at night, but all this changed with the emergence of COVID-19.

Parents and teachers had to adapt quickly to remote learning, and while the ‘home classroom’ hasn’t been a huge imposition in some states and territories, many families know what it feels like to be locked into remote learning for months and months.

To learn how lockdowns have affected young students around the country, and what we can do to make things better going forward, we spoke with Dr Anthea Rhodes, Director of the RCH National Child Health Poll.

The RCH National Child Health Poll is a regular survey of Australian parents to shed new light on big issues for kids, teens and families.

You’ve released a Poll focused on remote learning, so could you explain what this survey involved?

We surveyed parents of 1,797 children from across Australia as part of the RCH National Child Health Poll.

This survey was conducted in September 2020, when Victoria was experiencing a second prolonged hard lockdown, but all other states and territories were back at school on-site.

We wanted to find out how children and parents were coping with remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it has impacted their health and wellbeing.

The Poll indicates that one in three Australian children have experienced a negative health impact because of remote learning.

How did the remote learning experience differ between ages and places, and what were some factors that were particularly associated with a negative experience?

In 2020, those children living in Victoria experienced a longer period of remote learning and were more likely to report experiencing a negative mental health impact than those in other states and territories who experienced a shorter, single period of remote learning time.

In particular, more than half of children in Victoria (56 per cent) experienced a negative mental health impact, compared to 34 per cent in New South Wales (NSW) and 25 per cent in all other states and territories combined.

Across Australia, teenagers were slightly more likely than primary school children to experience negative mental health impacts from remote learning.

Gender was also a contributing factor, with girls more likely to experience negative mental health impacts than boys.

Fortunately, some children had a positive experience of remote learning. Why was this, and how can we make the remote learning experience more positive for more families in the event of lockdowns?

Remote learning was not a negative experience for all children, with 29 per cent of children in NSW, 21 per cent in Victoria, and 21 per cent in all other states and territories reported to have a positive impact from remote learning.

The reasons for this were not investigated in our study, but other research suggests that possible reasons include feeling more safe and supported in the home environment, particularly among children who have experienced bullying or anxiety at school.

Some parents anecdotally report having more time and opportunity to directly support their child’s learning, and the notable benefits of this for the whole family.

 

Opportunities for social connection with peers and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits, such as diet, sleep and physical activity, are ways to support positive mental health and wellbeing when learning from home.

The RCH National Child Health Poll comes out a few times a year. How do you decide on Poll topics, and what can we expect from the next Poll?

The RCH National Child Health Poll surveys parents three times a year to find out about current and topical child health conditions.

In the past, we’ve covered topics such as screen time, car seat safety, childhood bullying,  and telehealth for kids.

And over the past 18 months, we have asked families about many aspects of COVID-19, including:

  • Vaccination
  • Mental health impacts
  • Changes in lifestyle, and
  • Remote learning.

We sometimes release Supplementary Poll reports (e.g. relating to COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among Victorian parents and remote learning) to confirm preliminary findings.

As part of each survey, we ask parents to tell us what is currently important to them when it comes to child health, and what topics they would like to see explored next.

We also have a Family Advisory Committee at the Royal Children’s Hospital, who provide insights and suggestions on topic selection.

The upcoming Polls will explore how children are faring with the evolving impacts of the pandemic, including return to on-site learning and re-engaging in sport and other community activities, and you can always find the Latest Poll here.

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