Inequality in remote learning quality during COVID-19

Large-scale Assessments in Education
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Inequality in remote learning quality during COVID-19

Student perspectives and mitigating factors


Background: Remote learning, or synchronous or asynchronous instruction provided to students outside the classroom, was a common strategy used by schools to ensure learning continuity for their students when many school buildings were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Differences in technology infrastructures, digital competencies of students and teachers, and home supports for learning likely led to inequalities in the way remote learning reached and was perceived by students. This study seeks to understand how student perspectives on remote learning varied across and within several countries.

Methods: Building off a conceptual framework developed to understand remote learning success and using data from the Responses to Education Disruption Survey (REDS) student questionnaire from seven countries, we construct measures of student perceptions of three essential components of successful remote learning: Access to Suitable Technology, Effective Teachers, and Engaged Students. We then compare values on these scales across and within countries to identify inequalities in remote learning quality during school closures. We also investigate the extent to which schools implemented supports for remote learning across countries.

Results: We find evidence of across country variation in remote learning quality with certain countries having much lower values on our remote learning quality scales compared to other countries in our sample. Furthermore, we identify within-country inequalities in access to and confidence in using technology with low-SES students, girls, and those living in rural areas having lower values on these measures. Furthermore, we find some evidence of within-country inequalities in student engagement across socioeconomic groups. In contrast, we do not find as many inequalities in our measures of effective teachers. In most countries, schools provided several supports to improve remote learning.

Conclusions: While inequalities in remote learning experiences were anticipated and confirmed by our results, we find it promising that, in some countries, inequalities in access to and confidence in using technology as well as student engagement did not extend to inequalities in perceptions of teacher effectiveness and support. Schools’ efforts to support remote learning, regardless of student background, should be seen as a positive and illustrate their resilience in the face of many challenges.