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Less Stimulation, Lost Learning Momentum

The aftershocks of the Covid pademic’s impact on learning will likely continue for years.  Already, the effects are evident. We’re seeing mental and physical health issues not just in children, but teachers, parents, and families, too.

Everyone was touched by the effects of the pandemic. However, they’ve manifested themselves in many ways, some so subtle they’re difficult to see unless you look closely. Unfortunately, the data are beginning to show troubling trends on many levels. Let’s discuss what we know so far and the implications on future learning.

New Learning Challenges

The US Department of Education’s Education in a Pandemic Report lays out some sobering observations. COVID forced students and teachers to pivot from classroom to online learning, affecting 93 percent of learners.

This has widened the gulf between students in three major ways.

First, many children were held back by a lack of reliable internet access. The effects of the pandemic further compromised the communities’ abilities to improve the infrastructure to accommodate the spike in usage. Educators recognized the bottleneck in remote learning, with only 15 percent anticipating students would get more than 4 hours of daily instruction.

Second, children who are not yet comfortable readers or learners were far less likely to put in the quality time at home needed to keep up.  These children benefit disproportionately from in-person teaching support.  On the other hand, already independent learners and children who like reading were able to continue on.

Third, the quality and organization of online teaching varied significantly from teacher to teacher and school to school.  The home situation also played a role. Some parents were at home and able to support their children, others were not.

The home environment also exposed a gap between tech-savvy and inexperienced parents during the pandemic. The former could help their children with the new technology and adapt to this novel form of learning. However, the latter was at a distinct disadvantage, particularly if they didn’t own devices from which to receive lessons. Then, there was their learning curve to master it.

Tech-savvy parents had their own obstacles. According to data from Pew Research, 71 percent of employees in positions where they could work remotely did so. That meant that families were contending with making their homes classrooms and offices. Unsurprisingly, time conflicts arose, particularly for parents whose children were now essentially being homeschooled

The Stats

The aftermath became apparent with the statistics. A study by McKinsey & Company found that students learned only 87 percent of the reading skills they would have during normal circumstances, representing about 1.5 months of classroom time. The figures for mathematics raised more red flags at 67 percent and 3 months, respectively.

The impacts are evident, even after high-COVID has abated. Roughly 61 percent of teachers have reported higher rates of student absenteeism. Children who have already fallen behind are at a greater risk of not checking up and making up for the time they missed in the classroom. Mandatory quarantines after exposure have undoubtedly instilled fear into our youth when it could leave an indelible mark.

Early Delays Are Not Easily Overcome

This is not just a blip for these children.  There are long-term implications. Research has shown that if a first-grader struggles with reading at the end of first grade, they are 90 percent more likely to remain so at the end of fourth grade.

Therefore, the true impact of COVID on learners has yet to be realized.

It’s easy to take for granted the non-academic learning and social opportunities kids experience in school. They learn many life lessons, such as sharing, teamwork, and respect for adults. The pandemic robbed many children of these experiences at a time when they could have the greatest influence on socialization and a child’s quality of life into adulthood. However, the effects don’t stop there.

The learning struggles and shortcomings also have societal impacts. Again, third and fourth grades are telling times in a child’s education. Research has shown if they struggle with reading at that time, they are four times more likely not to graduate from high school. The long-term outlook is even more bleak when you consider that 90 percent of welfare recipients are dropouts.

Physical Issues

Of course, COVID took an incredible physical toll on the lives lost and the long-term effects that continue to plague individuals. However, other unintended consequences of the pandemic have already come to light in children. As we discussed, the classroom turned into a remote experience seemingly overnight. Students—including teachers and parents—had to hone their computer skills quickly.

Instead of playing games outdoors, kids engaged in them virtually in front of smartphones, tablets, and computers. The result is spiking rates of myopia or nearsightedness in young people. Researchers attribute it to physical changes in eyes that occur from screen time and time indoors. Being nearsighted adds to the challenges children are already facing with COVID, with some at risk of falling further behind.

However, it isn’t just the physical consequences of too much screen time. It can also affect a child emotionally by encouraging inappropriate behaviors, spending less time socializing with family and friends, and, perhaps, worst of all, replacing reading. Even in the light of COVID, parents should heed the recommendations of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to monitor screen time.

It’s essential to remember that devices can’t replace all learning skills. Their vision is still developing, with things such as fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Yet, the physical effects don’t stop there. When students are in school, they’re exercising more. Less activity puts them at a greater risk of childhood obesity.

Unfortunately, the statistics have shown a steady increase recently. The aftermath of the pandemic threatens to keep these figures on an upward trajectory, with serious health consequences that can follow children into adulthood. Overweight individuals are at a greater risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Effects on Homelife

Perhaps some of the most profound impacts of COVID have occurred in the home. According to a Gallup poll, 30 percent of parents reported their children were experiencing mental and emotional health issues, with 14 percent saying their kids were reaching their limits for coping. One of the biggest challenges was simply being away from their friends at school.

Nearly 35 percent of parents have reported spikes in behavioral problems they blame directly on COVID. Research has also shown an increase in fear and irritability in children 6–18 years old. These issues may affect families and the strength of their relationships long after the pandemic has waned. They may also influence how kids interact with each other.

The effects of social distancing and lockdowns have taken an enormous toll on our nation’s youth. It’s evident in even more frightening findings. Pediatricians reported an unprecedented increase in suicide-related behavior and attempts during the height of the pandemic. These figures are especially troubling since it was already the second-leading cause of death in youth aged 10–17 years old.

Parents have also shouldered an unexpected burden with the shifts in their job. Nearly 45 percent of remote workers report declines in their mental health. The Gallup Employee Burnout Report found that 76 percent of employees feel burned out, adding to the emotional hardships families are enduring. Adults have reported over 40 percent increases in substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, or depression.

The data are starting to show the cascading effects of COVID on all individuals, regardless of age. That’s left many wondering how the next generation will fare with all the challenges they’ve faced.

Positive Takeaway Messages

Lest we paint too dire of a picture, let’s consider some of the positive outcomes of the pandemic. One of the aftermaths has been an unheard-of change in the workplace that experts have called the Great Resignation. Many have also referred to it as the Great Reassessment. Individuals have collectively started to question the value of their jobs to their lives and families.

Perhaps the increased time at home gave people time to think about their career paths and the effects on their families. Many left traditional jobs and have gone on to pursue lifelong dreams. Remote work has changed what individuals want from their employers. Nearly two-thirds would choose to continue this practice than receive a $30,000 pay increase.

The nation also has seen population shifts with moves to smaller towns the precedent since the start of the pandemic. That’s good news for kids who are increasingly enjoying the benefits of having both parents at home. Hopefully, it can offset some of the adverse fallout from COVID by bringing families together.

Getting Your Child Back on Track

Most learning is ambient. Children pick up language, social norms, learning behavior, etc. primarily from observing others. Some children need a lot more time absorbing language and learning than others.  Learning delays occur when children are not getting the stimulation from their environment they need.  This kind of societal stimulation was in short supply for many children for extended periods, leading inevitably to reading and learning delays.

One response is to use an intervention like Gemm Learning. Our Fast ForWord software uses adaptive language, cognitive, pre-reading and reading exercises with frequency and intensity that are the equivalent of hearing many thousands of words in a few months. 

A 6-month routine on Fast ForWord, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, can effectively replace the stimulation that was missed during Covid. That can lead directly to an acceleration in learning, helping to get your child back to grade level or better.

How Fast ForWord software works

Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord software at home to build essential language processing and pre-reading skills, and then reading comprehension.