Alarming impact of school closures
Children who struggle to read are the most risk under COVID-19 school shutdowns but nearly half of all primary and high school students risk falling behind.
Many teachers are also poorly equipped to make the sudden switch to online learning which was forced on schools within days after classrooms shutdown amid COVID-19 fears in March.
The disturbing prediction of long-term impacts on students as a result of the school shutdowns are contained in new university research released by the federal education department.
It warns while rich kids can catch up and hire tutors, disadvantaged kids risk being left behind. But all students are likely to face disruptions.
According to the University of Tasmania, nearly half of all Australian children and teenagers - 46 per cent - are at risk.
"There are a large number of Australian children and young people who are vulnerable to adverse effects on their educational outcomes, nutrition, physical movement, social, and emotional wellbeing by being physically disconnected from school. This number is estimated to be 46 per cent of the student population,'' the report states.
"There is an urgent need to reconnect students, especially early-years and vulnerable students, to the physical context of school-based learning to support learning and wellbeing outcomes.
"Children and young people are experiencing learning loss over the period of learning at home. This delay in cognitive gain and achievement is more difficult to recover for some cohorts of students, and for others may result in them being lost to the education system."
While students remain at school in the Northern Territory, public school students are heading back to classroom teaching in Western Australia on Wednesday.
New South Wales is pursuing a phased return to classes in May and Queensland is also examining options. However, Victoria and the ACT are adamant that online learning should be used in Term 2.
According to the Victoria University report, if online delivery lasted two terms, low socio-economic students with complex learning needs could lose more than six weeks of learning in numeracy and in excess of four weeks of learning in reading
"At this time, the main goal is to ensure that all children are able to continue to access learning and to move student learning forward. But not all children are equally well placed to do this,'' Professor Stephen Lamb warned.
"Some children are already at risk of school failure for a variety of reasons and having to learn from home brings with it some major additional challenges for them. Those at risk include a wide variety of students such as those who live in poverty, often characterised by low socio-economic status, those with a disability or additional learning needs, students in rural or remote parts of Australia, and those who are indigenous.
Professor Lamb said many students did not have access to computers or the internet at home.
"Most schools across Australia were completely unprepared for the coronavirus and for moving to virtual learning,'' he said.
"Teachers across Australia have had to transition into the online environment without a strong evidence base to inform their approach.
"Teachers do not have a lot of experience in delivering online programs for primary or secondary students, particularly those who are disadvantaged. Without the daily interaction within the classroom or school, teachers may have less capacity to see how their students are coping and adjust their practices accordingly.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has confirmed he is in talks with independent private schools about when they return to face-to-face classes.
"So, the discussions that we've been having with independent schools, with Catholic schools, and also with state and territory education ministers, is that we should all follow the medical expert advice,'' he said.
"And, that is, that it's safe to be open. And, our hope now, is, nationally, that we will see all schools back to teaching in the classroom by the end of May. We know in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and the South Australian, and South Australia, that's where they are now. And, what we want to see is other states and territories to follow."
"One of the great concerns that we've had, from a Federal Government point of view, all along has been that we want to make sure that vulnerable children, children from low socio-economic areas, indigenous children, children from rural and remote areas, are not disadvantaged by this pandemic."
Samantha Maiden is news.com.au's national political editor | @samanthamaiden
Originally published as Alarming impact of school closures