Schools and schooling in a state of emergency

6. Apr 2020

Lessons (to be) learnt from living with Covid-19 (#4)

by Ursula Holtgrewe and Klaus Schuch

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has triggered a comprehensive real experiment in the Austrian school system as in other countries: In an unevenly digitised learning landscape, schools, teachers and students, as well as families, have had to shift to digitised, spatially distant learning systems within a week.

The sudden switch to digital learning caused by the COVID-19 shutdown could reinforce existing inequalities especially in school systems like the Austrian one, in which education is "inherited" (hypothesis 1). If  school education is offered in the form of digitally enriched homework, it is likely that unequal access to space, time, digital infrastructure and educational capital will increasingly impact learning success and experience of disadvantaged students in particular.

On the other hand, the disruption of domestic and school-based routines and expectations could also promote new scope for self-organized learning (hypothesis 2). Students and teachers can discover new ways of working and resources. Extra-curricular content and informal modes of teaching and learning can also be integrated into everyday learning. Indeed, self-organized, informal learning is considered a possible way of overcoming inequalities in the area of ​​education (see for instance the SYSTEM2020 project, funded under HORIZON2020 in which ZSI is actively participating).

Schools, teachers and pupils need the necessary digital infrastructure, hardware and software for these alternatives to conventional school lessons. This reveals a failure of Austrian education policy, namely in the timely and comprehensive provision  of pupils (and teachers and schools) with adequate  technical and educational resources. Those who have access to these digital resources - often due to private circumstances - are in a clearly privileged position compared to  the have-nots. After 3 weeks of shutdown, teachers find that a considerable proportion of their students have not been reached yet. Yet, just distributing hardware will not resolve the varied problems of developing accessible and inclusive modes of distance learning that support collaboration. The education system has both a need and a chance to learn a lot about the complementarity of technological, social and pedagogical innovation.

ZSI researches this situation. The Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) supports this ZSI project through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Call. By including both informal and formal learning, we complement the perspective on inequality and disadvantage with a student-oriented view of learning resources and opportunities that have been underexposed to date.

Schools as organizations and the school system as an institution also have new learning experiences. They test digital media and their possibilities and limitations in contexts that challenge society as a whole. Issues such as scope of work, performance and grading criteria and practices are may become open for negotiation - although the respective negotiating power of varied groups is likely, again, to be unevenly distributed.

All of this offers the opportunity to specify the needs for action, investment and design for the future of digital or digitally supported learning in the medium term. The focus of ZSI on social inequalities makes it possible to formulate evidence-based recommendations in order to use the opportunities of digital learning in a school context in an inclusive and equal way.

Verwandte Artikel:

Tags: Corona Virus, education

Leider ist dieser Inhalt in der ausgewählten Sprache nicht verfügbar.