School closures have wiped valuable weeks from students’ learning, and disadvantaged students will be hardest hit.
This has happened because some state and territory governments — Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, New South Wales, and Queensland — ignored the consistent expert medical advice to the National Cabinet that it was safe for schools to remain open, and decided instead to close schools for most students for almost a whole term.
Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been set even further back as a result. They tend to have less access to effective parental support, educational resources, and fast internet at home, so they were always going to be hurt disproportionately by government school closures.
According to our new research, the educational cost of school closures to disadvantaged students amounts to between 2 and 3 weeks of lost learning in numeracy, and between 1 and 2 weeks of lost learning in reading. This will exacerbate existing inequities.
It’s true parents were told students would not be turned away from school and children of essential workers could attend — albeit with mixed messages about safety. But this is still ultimately closing schools, because the small minority of children who still attend school learn in basically the same way as students learning from home, without normal face-to-face classes.
Most parents kept their children home — amid the naïve, unreasonable government expectation that parents could simultaneously work from home and supervise their children’s education — with serious economic consequences.
But is there evidence of a public health benefit, at least? A study of NSW schools by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance found the Covid-19 transmission rate in schools was “extraordinarily low” and there were no cases of students infecting staff. So it appears there was little or no public health benefit of closing schools — all pain and no gain.
The South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory governments should be commended for following the Commonwealth’s lead and only closing schools for one or two weeks, meaning their disadvantaged students would be just minimally affected.
But the other five governments should reflect on the unnecessary educational and economic damage inflicted. They made a decision based on politics — influenced by teacher unions — not evidence.
This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published across News Corp as School closures: Student learning has been damaged.