What is the position of pupils in primary schools more than two years after the first school closure? New research of the National Education Cohort Survey (NCO) shows a mixed picture.
The bad news: The delays in math, math and spelling are still great – despite all the brushing up and catching up programs. The good news: reading comprehension is going just as well as before corona.
Striking plot twist: pupils with lower-educated parents meanwhile make up for the delay faster than pupils with higher-educated parents.
Primary schools closed their doors for two months during the corona pandemic and switched to online education. When they could open again, it didn’t work: entire classes were sent home if a student had corona, and many teachers were home sick.
In the first instance, the consequences of this were particularly visible in the most vulnerable group: the students with lower-educated parents who could not be helped with their schoolwork properly at home. Children of higher educated parents also lagged behind, but much less. Corona thus increased the already existing inequality between students.
That picture has been tilted in recent months, it turns out. “The differences between students have become smaller. This time for the benefit of the group of vulnerable students,” says Carla Haelermans, research leader at the NCO and professor of educational economics at Maastricht University. Her explanation: the focused attention for this group. “At the beginning of the corona crisis, we saw that inequality between students was increasing rapidly. Schools have responded to this by investing a lot of time and energy in this group in a very targeted manner.”
Schools in poorer neighborhoods also received a larger share of the 8.5 billion euros that the cabinet is allocating to tackle learning disadvantages. That seems to have an effect, says Haelermans. “And that is good news, but at the same time we see that children of higher educated parents now have a greater learning delay.”
Haelermans suspects that this is because, in their efforts to get pupils back on track with the greatest delay, schools may unintentionally lower the level of the entire class. “Because of the focus on students with the most delay, other students may not have been challenged enough.”
Also read: Schools are given more time to catch up
In addition, Haelermans thinks that parents who did their utmost to help with home education during the first school closures, no longer had the time and energy for this during the second corona year. “Logical, but you immediately see the effect.”
Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the NCO has been examining the performance of primary school students every six months. The fourth survey, the results of which were published this Tuesday, compared standardized tests of students at 2,200 primary schools, more than a third of the total number.
The trend after two years of research is not optimistic, says Haelermans. The delay in reading comprehension has been made up, but students at all levels are still lagging behind in arithmetic, mathematics and spelling. In maths, there is an average delay of ten weeks per school year, a quarter of the total school year.
They do not easily make up for that deficit, says Haelermans. “If you miss a certain piece of basic knowledge in arithmetic and mathematics, it will haunt you. You cannot then properly link new knowledge to what you should have learned earlier.”
Repairing and catching up did not work well in the second corona year, because this school year is also “messy”, says Haelermans. Quite apart from the many classes sent home in the fall and winter, many schools are struggling with teacher shortages. Haelermans: “Make-up programs often couldn’t go ahead because there are no people to do it.”
At the end of this week, the students from group eight will receive the results of the final test. Haelermans holds her heart, she says. “These students were in sixth grade when the pandemic broke out. They have had it three school years in a row. I’m afraid they did less well on the final test than they otherwise would have done. But I hope I’m wrong.”
Also read: Five lessons we learned from homeschooling