Welsh secondary school children struggled to concentrate and engage with schoolwork in the move to online learning during the lockdown, negatively affecting their confidence and well-being, says a new study published in a British Psychological Society journal.
Researchers from Swansea University and Cardiff University surveyed a total of 407 pupils (17 male, 390 female) aged between 11 and 18 years old during November 2020, when schools had reopened.
Lead author Professor Nicola Gray of the Faculty of Medicine, Health, and Life Sciences at Swansea University said: We wanted to examine differences in concentration, motivation, and engagement from pupils’ perspective during online and classroom-based teaching. So we asked pupils to compare their normal classroom experience to learning online.’
The pupils answered questions on their ability to concentrate, how motivated and engaged they felt, and if they felt confident in their learning ability. Analysis of their responses showed pupils’ learning experiences (concentration, engagement, ability to learn, and self-worth from learning) were significantly lower for online learning than classroom learning. Also, these differences were more marked in students with specific learning difficulties.
Professor Gray continued: ‘As previous research has shown that 50% of lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin before the age of 14, there are concerns that the pandemic would lead to a surge of mental health difficulties for young people. These results show a substantial decrease in pupils’ learning experiences compared to the normal classroom experience. The problem is even worse for those with a working memory problem.’
‘Given the demonstrated association between engagement in education and children’s mental well-being, educators must find ways of overcoming problems encountered during online education to prevent a greater proportion of young people requiring mental health support and intervention.’
Tom Walters, member of the research team and senior leader at Howells School Llandaff (Girls Day School Trust), added: ‘During online learning, staff were aware that many were struggling to adapt to the new mode of learning, particularly those with specific learning difficulties.’
‘With the likelihood of this mode of learning being more prevalent in future, we were keen to understand better the demands of learning remotely and tried to do so in an evidence-based manner.’