Survey: Students relatively positive on distance learning, but obstacles remain

Dive Brief:

  • A new YouthTruth survey of 20,000 students in grades 5-12 across 166 schools in nine states finds that while students largely feel school logistics ran fairly well during coronavirus-related closures, they don’t feel remote learning provided academic gains.
  • Black and Latinx students reported having more obstacles to learning than their peers of other races or ethnicities, and female and nonbinary students reported more mental health and well-being struggles than their male peers.
  • Around half rated relationships with teachers and other adults positively, but just 39% of students said they learn a lot every day during remote learning and 70% reported facing at least one obstacle to learning. Among those obstacles: 64% said they had distractions at home and 50% reported feeling depressed, stressed or anxious. 

Dive Insight:

There is a critical opportunity now to listen to and learn from students’ lived experiences during this unprecedented time,” YouthTruth Executive Director Jen Wilka said in a press release. “As we navigate the challenges ahead and adapt to new learning models, student voice and equity must be central to the way school is reimagined.” 

The survey is the latest from the national nonprofit, which is built around the idea that by soliciting timely feedback from students, administrators can listen to that information and put it into action to get better more quickly.

Along with standard multiple choice options, the survey included open-ended responses — more than 40,000 of which were examined using hand-coding and machine learning. Among the themes the organization found were academic pace and agency, family connection, sleep and wellness, motivation and stress.

Only 22% of students rated their ability to connect with friends during closures favorably, making it the lowest average rating in the survey, according to the press release, and 57% said they were now able to spend more time on things they like to do.

The results also further highlight the digital divide that disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx students, and low-income students overall. In rural areas, the issue can be particularly challenging, as some families live in areas so remote that local infrastructure for high-speed broadband — or even cell towers for mobile hotspots — isn’t in place.

Districts have worked with both private and nonprofit partners to close this gap since the onset of the pandemic, with some service providers, for example, offering free or discounted service to low-income families. States are prioritizing efforts to close these access gaps with emergency funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

To further facilitate these efforts, the Federal Communications Commission also waived E-rate gift rules during the pandemic’s onset, allowing districts to receive free products and services. Lawmakers such as Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) have also put forth legislation to address the issue.

According to the FCC, 12 million students are impacted by the “homework gap” created by the lack of access to home internet and devices.

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