Youngsters 'turned off' school due to isolation amid calls for live video teaching

Children wilting under weight of ‘overwhelming’ workload and isolated online learning
The youngsters who took part in the workshops said they were struggling with online learning.The youngsters who took part in the workshops said they were struggling with online learning.
The youngsters who took part in the workshops said they were struggling with online learning.

A Place in Childhood (APiC) funded the project to find out how youngsters were coping with learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Focus-group workshops held online by the organisation, a start-up from Heriot-Watt university, included children from Aberdeen, Edinburgh,

Glasgow and rural Stirlingshire and Falkirk.

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However, researchers found that despite very different places and backgrounds, there was strong consensus among the young people - aged 10 to 16 - regarding the big changes affecting them due to Covid-19, and the associated challenges and remedies.

The group discussed five points which they feel could help their continued online learning - including collaboration with classmates,direct contact with their teachers, learning outdoors and having a coordinated approach between different teachers.

Schools in Scotland are expected to go back only part time when the new term starts on 11 August to help with social distancing and children will continue to spend a proportion of their time learning at home.

Dr Jenny Wood, co-founder of APiC, said: “The key thing that we found from what they were saying is that they are finding it very stressfulto learn remotely. While there is difference and variance in how different schools seem to be approaching it, there was a real consistency in all of these children across Scotland, even though they were in very different circumstances.

“They felt like they were getting more work overall than they used to get, especially the young people who were in transition years, such asexam years. They felt like a lot of choice has been taken away from them about how they use their time and at the same time, to communicate that to the people who need to know it has become more difficult.”

She added: “It struck us that they have lost a lot of their power to speak up about what is going on for them.”

She said that many children said the way classes were taught did not allow for communication with classmates, leaving them feelingisolated. Meanwhile, others said they did not even have easy access to paper and some, who did not have computers at home, were struggling to complete homework on their mobile phones - or writing out work and trying to photograph it to send to their teachers.

Dr Wood said: “It’s especially worrying when you think that the Scottish Government is trying to close the attainment gap. They are feeling very isolated. Not being able to communicate with their friends and classmates is turning them off [school] completely. They want as much video as possible and as much interaction with their classmates as possible. That is where a lot of them have their support networks.

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“We know schools had this thrust upon them and had to do what they can, but the students came up with great solutions which are small changes which could make a big difference to them - just some coordination between teachers about what works and what doesn’t would help enormously.”

Participants in the focus groups were recruited with help from Leith Community Crops in Pots, the Children’s Parliament, and local primary and secondary schools in Aberdeen and Denny.

The children’s views

Isla Kennedy, 11, from Glasgow.“I thought it was really good for children to get their points across in these workshops, as often adults think they’re the only people whocan make decisions. For me, because I’ve just got a new school iPad, it’s quite easy to work at home compared to other people. But for my sisters, their iPads keep going off, or it’s not working correctly andthey have to start again.

“I’m quite worried when I got back to school I’ll have lost some of the skills I had, but it’s generally going quite well for me.

“I think it would be good if we could have direct conversations with our teacher, if they could schedule time for each person.”Emma Harvey, 13, from rural Falkirk.

“The workshops were fun because they got to hear what people in other parts of Scotland were experiencing and we got to say what was actually happening for us and not just what adults think is happening.

Some subjects are harder than others to learn remotely. I had a problem with one of my subjects the other day and I emailed my teacher, but he took a few days to reply so I was stuck.

“Zoom or Team calls would really help with explaining. At the moment, we just get worksheets and maybe some notes and you have to copy them out and use Google to find out what they actually mean. Having calls like that would make sure you can talk to your teacher directly and if they would reply quickly, it would be really helpful.

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“Some personal contact would also be good. When you have to reply in group chats you feel more pressured. If everyone could do it privately, it might help everyone get on with their work so they’re not behind when they go back.”Aimee Ferguson, 16, from rural Falkirk

“I’ve got two big problems. For some of my Highers, it’s very difficult to learn off a paper. It’s very difficult to learn new subjects without that support I would have with [face to face meetings with teachers].

“I’m really struggling with not being with my classmates and not getting that chance to have a group discussion. I’m very social and I learn very well with people around me and I’m really struggling with that. I think going back in August, getting some extra support and having a platform, where we can have group discussions and talk to classmates more productively would be very beneficial.”Catriona Manders, 14, from rural Stirlingshire.

“Especially coming from a very rural area, it was very interesting taking part in the workshops, hearing about the different problems everyone was having. I think in a lot of these things, young people are often talked at rather than engaged with and this was the opposite of that.

“I’ve just changed into S4 a few weeks ago and it has felt very strange, having all of our new teachers get to know us online.

“Learning remotely is a never ending cycle of work and because there’s no separation from work life and home life, you work whether it's the weekend or not and teachers aren't very understanding of that - so we don't get a break at all.

“I think the idea about outdoor learning is very interesting. It’s something young people have been asking for for years and we've been told it’s not the right time or that it’s too difficult, but I think now we have an opportunity for that and we should take it.

“Some of our teachers have tried to compensate for the lack of video calls with pre recorded lessons, which is a level up from a written presentation, but you don't get the same level of engagement. We would want them to bring in video calls.”David Broadley, 10, from Glasgow“Taking part in the workshops was good to get children’s points across about how we are during lockdown and to speak to other people as welland find out how they’re coping.

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“If you get stuck on a question, it takes a long time for the teacher to reply. But if there were video chats, like Zoom, you could go into breakout rooms with your teacher to ask the questions if you didn’t want other people in the class to hear.”

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