COVID-19 highlighted the significant impact that education gaps and lack of access to peers has on the current generation of Australian children.
While the emergency phase of the pandemic might be over, its effects are still being felt. Across the winter months of 2023, variants of COVID-19 increased chronic school absence for students and teachers alike. Some schools returned to remote learning and temporary mask mandates with staff absence rates of 20% (compounding teacher shortages).
Rising school refusal, retention at home of medically vulnerable kids and long COVID are continuing, and long-term effects of the pandemic and lockdowns are still playing out.
Today, we’ll look at some of the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 has presented to students with serious illness.
“With remote learning for everyone, my daughter is no longer at a disadvantage compared to other kids.”
Challenges arising from COVID-19 highlight the ongoing impact of the pandemic on school students in Australia, especially those with serious illnesses. These include:
Increased Chronic School Absence: Variants of COVID-19 continue to contribute to increased chronic school absence for students and teachers leading to disruptions in the regular learning process.
Health-Related Challenges and Risks: Students with pre-existing health conditions continue to face increased risks associated with contracting COVID-19, and many are advised not to attend school in person during outbreaks, resulting in extended periods of absence and isolation.
Limited Access to Remote Learning Tools and Technology: Some students, including those with serious illnesses, may not have access to technologies for remote learning, such as computers, reliable internet, and specialised assistive devices, which present barriers to participation in online classes.
Emotional and Psychological Wellbeing: The fear of COVID-19, combined with the burden of chronic illness, can lead to increased stress for seriously sick children and their families, with concerns about missed school exacerbating their emotional and psychological challenges.
Discontinuation of Remote Learning Options: When schools returned to in-person learning and discontinued remote education options (that had been inclusive of students with serious illness during lockdowns), they once again excluded these students.
COVID-19 also presented opportunities and positive changes in education, fostering greater awareness, flexibility and technological integration that can benefit students facing serious health challenges.
Increased Empathy: The pandemic increased empathy about the challenges faced by seriously sick students; people had a universal experience of social isolation often leading to a better understanding of what it means to be socially isolated during a health crisis.
Flexibility, Learning, and Personalisation: Remote learning showed that schools can be flexible, creative, and personalised in their approach to teaching. Some schools introduced more flexible learning options, benefiting seriously sick students who may require adjustments to support their learning. Teachers became more comfortable using technology, and students appreciated the flexibility of learning at their own pace.
Embracing Technology: The pandemic accelerated the adoption and widespread use of telepresence technology, by necessity, making it a more feasible option for future use. This increased accessibility options for seriously sick children, and the hope for greater school connection from home or hospital.
Positive Effect on Inclusion: During the pandemic, many schools changed their teaching methods and learning approaches in response to COVID-19. In some cases, this led to increased levels of inclusion for seriously sick children. A significant percentage of respondents in a MissingSchool survey reported that their child’s inclusion either remained at the same level or increased during the pandemic.
Community and Family Support Networks: The pandemic highlighted the importance of community and family support networks in helping students access education. These networks played a crucial role in providing emotional and logistical support to students and their families during the challenging times of the pandemic.
While COVID-19 presented critical challenges in terms of health-related concerns, access to technology, and social and emotional wellbeing, it also catalysed positive changes, including increased awareness, flexible learning approaches, and the integration of technology, showing possibility for a more adaptable and inclusive educational landscape.
For all of us, our connection to our community is vital, and it would be impossible for us to stay the course without your incredible support.
There are many ways to help:
- follow along and cheer us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
- share this newsletter with your family, friends, or colleagues so we can reach more sick kids, and
- donate towards getting a seriously sick child back into their classroom.
Every action moves us closer to the finish line: a world where every sick child is seen and heard.
Let’s keep connecting.