From Face-to-interface: A digital divide for parents during Covid-19 lockdown

Banner image: Shutterstock/PointImages

Like Comment

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

OECD Tackling coronavirus (COVID‑19) Contributing to a global effort

The COVID-19 crisis has radically transformed how we live, work and learn. The impact on the education system has been massive, with 1.8 billion students affected by school shutdowns. Fortunately, learning hasn’t stopped – teachers, students and families have taken up digital tools “en masse” but the shift to virtual school has also exposed the growing digital divide.

Now that students are returning to school physically in OECD countries, we spoke to parents about what they learnt during this time. Below, parents in Australia, Colombia, UK and Canada told us about their experience of online learning regarding digital infrastructure, access and use. Their responses might take you by surprise...

The names of respondents in this piece have been changed to protect identities.

Australia 

Carlee (45 yo) parent of Max (13) and June (10), students in Brisbane, Queensland

1. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being perfect), how would you rate the quality of your internet connection during the COVID-19 lockdown? 

I would rate our internet connection at a 3/5 as we have had several difficulties. Problems with connection speed for video conferencing and also running out of monthly data allowances have been the main causes of frustration.

2. What has been the biggest challenge of helping your children do lessons on line?

The biggest challenge has been continuing to working from home as parents at the same time as supporting our children in their learning. This has been challenging to balance, especially with multiple children learning from home at the same time.

3. Do you think that your children have fallen behind during the lockdown? What could have been done better? Have you noticed a difference in your own physical and emotional well-being during the lockdown? If so, how?

I do not think our children have fallen behind in a significant way during the lockdown. There is a different kind of value in learning that comes from an experience like this. Schools managed very well considering they had such a short time frame. Learning activities that did not rely on a parent to administer were the most helpful, so perhaps more of this would have been helpful. I have noticed an improvement in my own physical and emotional well-being during the lockdown. More time at home has allowed me to engage in a daily physical exercise routine which has been positive.

4. In your opinion should we use more digital tools and online learning in education in the future?

Yes, as a value add to quality learning and teaching, but not as an entire substitute. Digital tools that enhance learning are highly valuable. However, from the lockdown experience I have recognised that not all digital tools are equal in terms of value for the learner.

5. Is there anything you have learnt during this period that you hope to keep doing when things go “back to normal”?

I hope to maintain a healthy physical exercise routine. I hope to discover new ways that people can work from home for aspects of their work week.

6. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being excellent), how would you rate the quality and reliability of online information during the lock down?

The quality of online information would be a 4/5. While there have been some excellent online sources of information, there has also been a lot of disinformation and personal opinions circulated. It is sometime difficult to identify the most reliable sources of information amidst the "noise".

How can teachers and school systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? Some lessons from TALIS by Andreas Schleicher, Director, Education and Skills, OECD

Canada

Judith and Rex (42 yo), parents of Jan (13) and Rob (8), students in Huntsville, Ontario

1. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being perfect), how would you rate the quality of your internet connection during the COVID-19 lockdown? 

The quality of our internet is 3/5 – it is pretty reliable.

2. What has been the biggest challenge of helping your children do lessons on line?

Only satellite internet is available, and speed and data are limited; we tried to complement this by purchasing larger data packages on our phones and using them as “hotspots”, but this still was sometimes not sufficient for what some teachers expected e.g. online face-to-face meetings, viewing videos, etc.

As working parents, we are working full time from home and still trying to raise kids. Homework information goes straight to the kids so I don’t always see what they are working on. Understanding what exactly is expected, and teachers not responding to emails asking for clarification, particularly when an assignment is rampant with specific terminology or written in a language the parents do not know.

3. Do you think that your children have fallen behind during the lockdown? What could have been done better? Have you noticed a difference in your own physical and emotional well-being during the lock down? If so, how?

Yes, our children have definitely fallen behind. Without a teacher to make the material relevant and meaningful, and help explain important concepts of a topic, the content is lost e.g. there’s no way to make Confederation an engaging subject without a classroom teacher! When students are given lengthy, complex readings (in their second language), with little explanation from the teacher, it can be frustrating and seem pointless – to both students and their parents!

4. In your opinion should we use more digital tools and online learning in education in the future?

No, not until telecommunications infrastructure is improved, e.g. in rural regions or for economically-disadvantaged families; some students/families may not be motivated enough to ensure work is completed.

5. Is there anything you have learnt during this period that you hope to keep doing when things go “back to normal”?

That school boards and teachers seem to have a better understanding now that access to technology in their students’ homes varies greatly, that the trend towards exclusively Google-based course material may be a barrier to some students’ learning; however, it has forced some students to be more independent and self-reliant (time-management, prioritising work, meeting deadlines).

6. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being excellent), how would you rate the quality and reliability of online information during the lock down?

I rate the quality of information on line at 4/5. It’s not perfect but we can do this if necessary. And ways to learn or access info exist.

Image: Shutterstock/Kaspars Grinvalds

Colombia

Yéssica (41 yo), parent of Alejandra (11), student in Bogota

1. Do you think that your children have fallen behind during the lockdown? What could have been done better? Have you noticed a difference in your own physical and emotional well-being during the lock down? If so, how?

Alejandra has not fallen behind during the lockdown. As a matter of fact, she has had better performance. She is stricter in terms of scheduling, getting up and going to bed. Regarding the physical aspects, being sedentary and staying all day at home, along with a change in eating habits, has meant she has had an increase in weight. Emotionally, the lockdown has created certain anxiety episodes.

2. Is there anything you have learnt during this period that you hope to keep doing when things go “back to normal”?

We should make better use of digital tools for school and work purposes.

Responding to Coronavirus: Back to school by Tracey Burns, Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

United Kingdom

James (38 yo), parent of Sam (10) and Jill (8), students in Durham

1. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being perfect), how would you rate the quality of your internet connection during the COVID-19 lockdown? 

Our internet connection would rate at a 4. There have been slip-ups and slow connections.

2. What has been the biggest challenge of helping your children do lessons on line?

When my child stays on the computer for too long.

3. Do you think that your children have fallen behind during the lockdown? What could have been done better? Have you noticed a difference in your own physical and emotional well-being during the lockdown? If so, how?

I don’t think my child has fallen behind but because the teacher is not around, I feel they’re not doing enough. Physical and emotional well-being have been improved. We go on walks as a family and sometimes watch comedy shows.

4. In your opinion should we use more digital tools and online learning in education in the future?

There are two answers to this question. Yes, because it has improved my child’s typing skills and has made my child more independent in their studies and more of a critical thinker. No, because of the length of time she spends in front of the computer is not good for her health.

5. Is there anything you have learnt during this period that you hope to keep doing when things go “back to normal”?

We would like to continue going on walks, watching movies and spending quality time as a family.

6. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being excellent), how would you rate the quality and reliability of online information during the lock down?

The reliability of the information that I have seen rates at a 4/5.

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Child Well-being Future of Education & Skills

Whether you agree, disagree or have another point of view, join the Forum Network for free using your email or social media accounts and tell us what's happening where you are. Your comments are what make the network the unique space it is, connecting citizens, experts and policy makers in open and respectful debate.

Note: The names of the respondents in this article have been changed to respect anonymity. 

Go to the profile of Shayne MacLachlan

Shayne MacLachlan

Campaign Manager, OECD

Communications strategy, content, community

No comments yet.