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Updated: January 5, 2021

What are the social and cultural implications of modified school programming due to COVID-19 for children and their families?

Summary

The following is a brief summary of the best available evidence from trusted sources on the social and cultural implications of modified school programing due to COVID-19. In this summary, we have considered evidence related to different adaptations to pre-COVID in-person classroom school programs, including virtual, at home, self-directed or online modes of continued learning during school closures or partial closures. Two literature reviews, three rapid review, three international guidance and one single study were identified to answer this question and were used in this REAL Summary. For additional information about each of the sources, see the Table below. For additional information about each of the sources, see the Table below.

The evidence suggests that the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions on in-person school programming and children are may be vast and multidimensional (e.g., social, cultural and physical implications, etc.). The Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemics on low-income communities literature review highlights that low-income families have less access to the internet and are less equipped to adapt to technological resources compared to higher income families [8]. The loss of learning due to a lack of access to online learning will further disadvantage these children [8]. The COVID-19 and teacher education: a literature review of online teaching and learning practices highlights that a supportive online learning environment requires strong collaboration, interactivity and interdependence, which can only be achieved by equal accessibility to technological resources [7].  
 
UNICEF states in its COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures? guidance that those most impacted by changes to schooling are those living in rural areas where  online learning is less accessible (e.g., due to lack of equipment) [6]. For those in low-income countries, this effect is heightened losing as much as 4 months of schooling compared to six weeks lost in high-income countries [4]. In its COVID-19 and Children guidance UNICEF notes that in the past, school closures have led to an increase in child marriage and child labour that often prevents children from continuing their education [4].  
 
In its Education during COVID-19 and beyond  policy brief, the United Nations listed several effects of the closures of educational institutions including impeding access to essential services to children and communities, affecting the ability of many parents to work, impeding access to nutritious foods and increasing risks of domestic violence against women and girls [5]. In a rapid review, Negative Impacts of Community-Based Public Health Measures During a Pandemic on Children and Families (June, 2020) Public Health Ontario states that virtual learning has resulted in: 1) loss of income/employment and additional childcare expenses for parents; 2) loss of access to adequate nutrition provided by school meals; 3) loss of access to education; 4) loss of access to school-based healthcare services (e.g., vaccination, referrals, nursing, speech therapy, nutrition counselling etc.); and 5) effects on mental health and emotional well-being [3]. In another rapid review, COVID-19 Pandemic School Closure and Reopening Impacts (July 2020) Public Health Ontario notes that school closures could have overall negative impacts on both the students and their family, as a general lack of childcare may have negative impacts on family expenses, school-based healthcare services, mental and emotional well-being and food security [1].   
 
The effects of school closures should be evaluated when considering their necessity in balancing the potential reductions in COVID-19 transmission. In the British Columbia Center for Disease Control’s Impact of School Closures on Learning, Child and Family Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic guidance, a systematic review of 16 studies examining the impact of school closures on reducing transmission showed mixed findings, where many studies noted that school closures were not as effective as other non-pharmaceutical interventions as stand-alone strategies in reducing the spread of COVID-19, and must be adequately paired with physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask use [2]

Evidence

What‘s Trending on Social Media and Media

This article from the CBC shares the perspectives of teachers who report feeling stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, and burnt out as a result of having to adapt classrooms and teaching strategies during COVID-19 which has increased the demands of their job.  

Organizational Scan

From June 9-20, 2020, Statistics Canada collected data from the responses of over 32,000 parents/guardians of children on a variety of topics including the experience of at-home learning during the pandemic. With increasing levels of parental education, there was in increase in the reported frequency with which their children engaged in structured academic activities. Parents with higher levels of education were also less likely to report feeling very or extremely concerned with their child’s academic success. A greater proportion of participants who have a child with a disability reported being very or extremely concerned with their child’s academic success compared to those who do not.  

The Government of Nova Scotia has released a report summarizing results from a survey of parents and students conducted in June 2020 about their experiences with at home learning during the pandemic. Some of the concerns reported include inadequate school/teacher communication, challenges with access to internet and technology, expectations to complete work and difficulty of work that is too high, and negative impact on sense of well-being.  

Review of Evidence

Resource Type/Source of Evidence Last Updated
COVID-19 Pandemic School Closure and Reopening Impacts
— Public Health Ontario
Rapid Review
  • School closures could have impacts on parents, including healthcare workers, through an increase in unmet childcare needs. 
  • School closures can also have negative impacts on family expenses, nutrition due to missed school-provided meals, education, school-based healthcare services, mental health and emotional well-being. 
  • It is important to consider the evidence on the effectiveness of school closures on COVID-19 transmission in the context of negative impacts on both child and family health. 
Last Updated: July 26, 2020
Impact of School Closures on Learning, Child and Family Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic
— BCCDC: British Columbia Center for Disease Control
Rapid Review
  • A systematic review of 16 studies found insufficient data to assess the efficacy of school closures during coronavirus outbreaks and questioned whether environmental, hygienic, and infection control precautions may be as effective.  
  • While models from the first pandemic wave suggested that school closures in the context of a broader pandemic response reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission and case counts, other models noted that school closures were not as effective as other non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies nor sufficient as a stand-alone strategy. 
Last Updated: August 31, 2020
Negative Impacts of Community-Based Public Health Measures During a Pandemic on Children and Families
— Public Health Ontario
Rapid Review
  • Results of COVID-19 public health response in children include: 1) loss of income/employment and additional childcare expenses for parents; 2) loss of access to adequate nutrition provided by school meals; 3) loss of access to education; 4) loss of access to school-based healthcare services; and 5) effects on mental health and emotional well-being. 
  • These effects are in addition to potential financial stressors, such as unemployment and loss of income in families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Updated: June 7, 2020
COVID-19 and Children
— UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund
International Guidance
  • The pandemic has sharpened the inequities of child learning. 
  • School children in poorer countries have been hit particularly hard where many schools lack resources to invest in digital learning, and many children from poorer households do not have internet access.  
  • School children in poorer countries have lost 4 months of learning compared to six weeks in high-income countries.  
  • In the past, school closures have led to an increase in child marriage and child labour that prevent children from continuing their education. 
Last Updated: September 30, 2020
Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond
— United Nations
International Guidance
  • Educational disruptions have had substantial effects beyond education including hampering essential services to children and communities, access to nutritious food, affecting the ability of many parents to work, and increasing risks of violence against women and girls. 
  • As fiscal pressures increase, and development assistance comes under strain, the financing of education could also face major challenges, exacerbating massive pre-COVID-19 education funding gaps. 
Last Updated: July 31, 2020
COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures?
— UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund
International Guidance
  • Globally, at least 463 million students remain cut-off from education mainly because of a lack of policies supporting digital and broadcast remote learning or a lack of the household assets needed to receive digital or broadcast instruction.  
  • This mainly comprises of children in pre-primary school, but also includes children in upper secondary school.  
  • Students in rural areas represent the majority of those who cannot be reached by any mode of remote learning, regardless of a country’s economic development.  
  • Overall, three out of four students who cannot be reached live in rural areas, but this proportion is even higher in lower-income countries.
Last Updated: July 31, 2020
COVID-19 and teacher education: a literature review of online teaching and learning practices
— Carmen Carillo & Maria Flores
Literature Review
  • The ability of learners and teachers to interact, collaborate and build relationships with other members was a source of satisfaction for students and greatly influenced the cohesion of learning communities, the co-construction of knowledge among participants and the impact of online teaching and learning practises. 
  • Collaboration, interactivity, mutual respect and interdependence were effective means of increasing social presence and a supportive learning environment online. 
Last Updated: September 12, 2020
Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income communities
— Pathways to Education
Literature Review
  • Long-term consequences of COVID-19 are magnifying pre-existing disparities in society and within the education system.  
  • Data from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission showed that as of 2017, 99% of Canadians from high socioeconomic backgrounds had access to the internet at home compared to only 69% of Canadians from low socioeconomic backgrounds. 
  • Students from affluent backgrounds have an easier time adapting to online learning and more supports for academic success.  
  • Many students from disadvantaged backgrounds rely on schools and support programs for necessities and security. 
  • Students who share small spaces with multiple family members will struggle to focus on distance education when competing for scarce resources or a private study space.  
Last Updated: June 12, 2020
Parents supporting learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic
— Statistics Canada
Organizational Scan Last Updated: January 5, 2021
What we heard: A summary of results from parent and student learning at home surveys
— Government of Nova Scotia
Organizational Scan Last Updated: January 5, 2021
Disclaimer: The summaries provided are distillations of reviews that have synthesized many individual studies. As such, summarized information may not always be applicable to every context. Each piece of evidence is hyperlinked to the original source.

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