Learning in a COVID-19 world  

Published: 18 May 2021
Early learning

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on all aspects of life around the world. In Aotearoa New Zealand, significant disruption to ECE and schooling has occurred through lockdowns, closure of individual centres and schools, changing alert levels, and from the ongoing uncertainty.  

ERO looked at the impacts of COVID-19 on ECE centres and schools   

Last year, the Education Review Office carried out work to understand what the challenges have been for ECE centres and schools to help the education system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In January this year, we published our findings, which included the key lessons going forward and practical steps ECE centres and schools could take to respond to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.   

ECE centres and schools went above and beyond   

Our reports found that ECE centres and schools went above and beyond to keep their children and students learning and to support the wellbeing of their children, students, whānau and staff. Services and schools kept in regular contact with whānau and their students and supported their local community by providing help where it was needed, including distributing care and food parcels.  

Participation in ECE and attendance at school is back to normal for the majority of learners   

Last year, 40 percent of services, interviewed by ERO, reported that their enrolment and attendance of children was negatively impacted by COVID-19. The Ministry of Education found that ECE participation fell sharply during lockdown, and has been slightly down during periods of Level 2, but appears to have returned to normal levels for most children. ECE centres told ERO that whānau were nervous about their children returning to onsite education and care following a lockdown.  

Nearly half of schools, interviewed by ERO in September 2020, reported that they had ongoing concerns about student attendance and concerns were highest among schools serving the lowest socio-economic communities. The Ministry of Education analysed how COVID-19 was affecting school attendance and found that most students returned to school following a lockdown. However, they found that students are most likely to have reduced their attendance in response to COVID-19 if they attend a low decile school and are in earlier year levels. They also found that 40 percent of students with reduced attendance did not have concerning attendance patterns at the beginning of the year, prior to COVID-19. Schools told ERO that whānau anxiety was the most common reason why a student did not return to school following a lockdown.  

Any disruption to learning for last year’s NCEA students looks like it was minimised for most students   

NCEA students were really struggling last year. When we surveyed them at the end of Term 3 in 2020, only a quarter said they were keeping up with their schoolwork. The positive preliminary NCEA results released at the beginning of 2021 suggest that the range of extra support provided by schools and the education system has managed to minimize any disruption to their learning last year. Schools told ERO that they had prioritised student wellbeing and provided flexible and personalised teaching and learning to support students to get their learning back on track. The impact of COVID-19 on younger students learning is still unknown and these students will need careful monitoring to make sure their learning is back on track.  

Practical guides to support the sector to continue to respond to Covid-19   

There are some clear lessons for moving forward about supporting learners and their whānau, and helping services and schools prepare for further lockdowns or other responses to COVID-19.  

ERO has produced a number of practical guides to support ECE teachers and leaders,primary and secondary school teachers and principals, school boards and parents. These guides provide practical actions for centres and schools to consider as they continue to respond to having to learn in a COVID-19 world.  

ERO has also identified evidence-based practices that can make a difference to secondary student engagement. This report describes practical strategies to support student engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, including re-engaging students who are showing signs of disengagement.