Majority of school principals, teachers and parents support schools reopening in September

New research on the “Experience and Attitudes towards Distance Learning introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic”

07 August 2020
Teacher teaching a class
UNICEFMK

SKOPJE, 7 August 2020.  A majority of surveyed school principals, teachers and parents are in favour of reopening schools with classroom based learning or combined classroom and distance learning models. The opinions are based on the preliminary findings of research on the “Experience and Attitudes towards Distance Learning introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic” launched today by the Ministry of Education and Science, Bureau for Development of Education, UNICEF, British Embassy in Skopje and partner Reactor – Research in action. 

Based on a comprehensive assessment which includes the views of some 10,000 respondents, as many as 59 per cent of surveyed school principals; 58 per cent of surveyed primary school and 48 per cent secondary school teachers; and 46 per cent of surveyed parents support regular classroom-based learning in line with protocols. And, 36 per cent of principals; 33 per cent of primary school and 38 per cent secondary school teachers; and 35 per cent of surveyed parents support combined classroom and distance learning model. 

 “Although we have been continually learning, either directly or indirectly, about the experiences of stakeholders during the entire process, this research is the most relevant and the results best summarize the individual experiences of school principals, teachers and parents,” said Arber Ademi, Minister of Education and Science. “Some of these findings, have already been addressed in the plans and policies related to the way education will be implemented in the future, and it’s more than clear that we must adapt to the new reality, the new unordinary conditions that we all find ourselves in, so that we can continue to maintain the primary function and purpose of education. The other research findings will be integrated, simply put "as we go" and depending on the needs.”  

“The education system shifted to distance learning quickly after school and pre-school closures, which was critical to ensure that children did not fall too far behind in learning. More recent evidence on the negative impacts of prolonged school closures, however is overwhelming, with long-term implications for children’s learning, safety, health and wellbeing. Unless we prioritize the reopening of schools, we will see a reversal in education gains made in recent years. The best interests of children must be central to decision-making on when and how to reopen schools,” said Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative.  

The initial findings of the research on “Experience and Attitudes towards Distance Learning introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic” highlights that:  

  1. More than half of the surveyed teachers, 54 per cent, saw an increase in the number of students who struggled with or failed to acquire what they were being taught. 

  1. A majority of teachers, 77 per cent, at one point during distance learning could not contact some of their students. 

  1. While all teachers had some form of access to internet and IT equipment, a significant proportion, 42 per cent shared a computer or laptop with other family members, 18 per cent used obsolete machines and 5 per cent used mobiles or tablets; some 42 per cent had limited or interrupted internet access.   

  2. The majority of teachers reported they need training and additional support to implement distance learning noting the following as priorities: access to digital educational materials (62 per cent), IT equipment (58 per cent) and digital textbooks (56 per cent), and training on how to use digital platforms to implement classes online (58 per cent) and digital platforms to support student assessment (54 per cent).  

  3. The majority of surveyed parents struggled to support their child during distance learning – 61 per cent noting their work responsibilities prevented them from devoting the extra time needed to support online learning.  

  4. Access to internet and IT equipment was also a barrier for some households with 37 per cent of parents reporting that children needed to share laptops and computers with other family members and others reporting not having stable internet; only 5 per cent reported not having access to a laptop or computer.  

 

The survey of school principals, teachers and parents also explored attitudes towards school reopening, with:      

  1. A majority of surveyed school principals, teachers and parents are in favour of reopening schools with classroom based learning or combined classroom and distance learning models. Only 6 per cent of school principals, and 14 per cent of high school and 10 per cent primary school teachers favour continuing with distance learning. Among surveyed parents 19 per cent favour continuing with distance learning.   

  1. Almost all, 94 per cent of school principals believe that their school has the conditions to maintain hygiene; and more than half of all school principals - 55 per cent in urban and 65 per cent in rural settings - believe their schools and staff are able to maintain physical distance when in the school environment.  

 

"The crisis that arose with the spread of the coronavirus bought to the surface the needs and challenges in securing the right to education in such conditions. We have faced a situation where the normal functioning of education was not possible. This situation prompted a search for new solutions on how to organise and implement teaching and learning. Therefore, with the beginning of the new school year, the Bureau for Development of Education will provide adequate support to teachers to be able to successfully cope with the challenges and, together, succeed not only in maintaining but also in improving the quality of teaching and learning,” said Zeqirija Hasipi, Director of the Bureau for Development of Education.  

The new research provides additional insights to support the Government in planning and making decisions on the modalities and protocols for reopening schools. It complements an analysis presented by UNICEF and partners last week on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on children in North Macedonia  which showed that not all teachers had the ICT skills needed to plan and implement distance learning and that the education budget was among those that underwent cuts despite a slight increase of total government expenditures during the May budget supplement.  

According to UNICEF, without ambitious action on education, and a determined focus on the most vulnerable children, the COVID-19 pandemic will further deepen the ongoing learning crisis, with catastrophic implications for generations of learners, as well as economic productivity and social cohesion. UNICEF is calling on the Government and partners to: 

  1. Ensure schools are among the first institutions to reopen after COVID-19 closures and ensure equal access to quality learning for the most vulnerable children, including by investing in digital connectivity for every child. 

  1. Develop a plan with different modalities that will allow local governments to ensure that all children are either in school learning or access a unified approach to distance learning, or a blended approach of distance and classroom-based learning, starting September 2020. 

  1. Reimagine learning so that every child gains the skills they need to succeed in life and work. 

  1. Prioritise investment in continued teacher training and in internet connectivity.   

  1. Protect and increase education budgets, and ensure funding is targeted at the most vulnerable. 

 

“We must act now so that children don’t become the hidden victims of this pandemic, bearing the brunt of the long-term impacts of the crisis and taking the negative effects of the pandemic into the next generation,” continued Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative. 

The initial findings of the research on “Experience and Attitudes towards Distance Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic” is based on an online survey completed by 210 school principals, 6,400 teachers and 3,400 parents during June and July. The researched was commissioned by the Ministry Education and Science, Bureau for Development of Education and UNICEF with financial support from the UK government and implemented by Reactor- Research in Action. The full report with additional perspectives of learners will be available in the coming weeks.   

 

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EXPERIENCES AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS DISTANCE LEARNING

Initial findings from the survey carried out with school directors, teachers and parents

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