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The negative effects of the pandemic on teaching systems obtain fairly consensual recognition. Recent studies and reports published by international entities point to unprecedented losses of learning, which shall bring about challenges for the development of students today and for the economies of tomorrow.

In this period of preparation and beginning the return to in-person teaching, it is more necessary than ever to pay attention to the quality of the education system. However, just what measures do these teaching systems have available to offset these effects? How can we help students recover that which they never learned?

Iniciativa Educação challenged a set of specialists from different fields of study to highlight some practical suggestions for parents and teachers – always based on the conclusions of the latest scientific findings in their respective fields.


1. Don’t give up on the technologies

Ludmila Nunes

Researcher in cognitive psychology and a scientific writer for the Association for Psychological Science

Some of the measures caused by the pandemic may have arrived to stay. One of them is the more frequent utilisation of technology in education, which strengthens a trend that has been emerging over recent years.

The closure of schools forced students and teachers to transform their activities, deploying never before used technologies. On the return to in-person teaching, it is important to continue to apply some of the technology available not only to avoid any further disruptions should there be another need to close schools, but also to guarantee the return to school does cause a total turnaround to the processes students have been getting used to.

Furthermore, the most important facet derives from how these technologies may, under various circumstances, facilitate active learning, which improves the academic performance and may also achieve this in ways that are often very hard to implement in classrooms. This specifically applies to using technologies to make students mutually collaborate and think about their learning process that became more common during the pandemic and can continue to be used whether in classrooms or for homework. For example, the usage of chats or documents where various students may collaborate to assimilate knowledge may provide means for active learning that reflect in better general educational progress.

Greater utilisation of the Internet and the technologies available may continue following the reopening of schools so as to help educators implement learning strategies that provide good results both in personally attended classes and in online classes. This thus highlights strategies including: testing the knowledge of students to facilitate their learning and not only to evaluate them, providing feedback whenever possible and interspersing materials and types of exercises.


2. Evaluate your students and understand what level they’re at

Patrícia Costa

Doctoral degree holder in Statistics / Psychometry, researcher in the field of Education Statistics at CEMAPRE – the Centre of Mathematics Applied to Economic Forecasting and Decision-making

A very recent study involving Dutch students analysed the impact of the closure of primary schools for an 8 week period. The results indicate that students lost around two thirds of their learning progress (knowledge), with students from lesser advantaged backgrounds registering the greatest losses.

Despite not yet having data for Portugal, the most recent pre-pandemic international questionnaire (TIMSS), for 4th year students, already identified major shortcomings among students from more favourable social and cultural backgrounds (with at least one parent holding a higher education degree) that deepened among students from less advantaged backgrounds. The former return better Mathematics results, on 54 points, than the latter – which, in international evaluations, is equivalent to over one academic year’s teaching difference.

In 2016, there was already a major difference in the results for Reading (38 points), in PIRLS, between Portuguese students from better and worse off backgrounds.

These results convey the need and usefulness of applying student evaluation to implementing teaching and learning strategies structured to help them recover their lags in learning, which is of particular importance for students from lesser advantaged households.

Hugo Reis

Economist, researcher in the Department of Economic Studies of the Bank of Portugal and a member of CUBE – the Economics and Management Research Unit of Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics

In the current, post-confinement context, the debate on education naturally focuses on the recovery plans to offset the effects of various months of remote learning. However, for a more efficient recovery, from the beginning, there is a need to diagnose the impacts that remote teaching and learning had on students.

Teachers will not only confront greater inequalities among their students but also greater uncertainties about their levels of knowledge. The diagnostic means take on particular importance in the current panorama and should be as comparable as possible among classes and schools, swiftly informing the teachers about the different paces of learning present in the class. These tests may also make a difference through adapting the teaching as is observed in studies on the consequences of diagnostic tests undertaken in the United States.

A good diagnosis is the best way of establishing the core foundations for students to recover from the more negative impacts of distance learning while simultaneously guaranteeing the progress of those who were able to remain in greater contact with the school. This still remains the only guarantee for allocating the additional resources and investments in accordance with the real needs.

 

Luís Querido and Sandra Fernandes

Luís Querido

Clinical and Health Psychologist /Neuropsychologist at the Institute of the Psychology of Human Relationships and Service to the Community, Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon

Sandra Fernandes

Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon

The eventual losses associated with the interruption to presential teaching will be sharper in domains that involved capacities for memorisation and procedures, such as mathematics and writing, than in areas that require a conceptual understanding, such as grasping the meaning when reading. Parents have more reading resources and activities available than those for solving mathematics problems or practicing writing.

In the return to presential teaching, it is fundamental for teachers to evaluate the contents given while teaching remotely, focusing on those most subject to loss with their presential monitoring essential in the knowledge that this is a role where parents find it difficult to replace the school. This eventual review of content should advance based on the diagnostic evaluation of students.

 

João Lopes

Professor of Psychology at the University of Minho and coordinator of the Iniciativa Educação Program AtoZ – Read Better, Know More

For teachers in the 1st Cycle of Primary Education:

Time and the quality of teaching have particularly suffered from non-presential teaching. It is particularly difficult for teachers, working remotely, to understand what point their students have reached in reference to the curriculum. To this end, it is important, whenever possible, to swiftly carry out tests of student knowledge of the essential content on their return to the classroom. This testing will enable the adaptation of the teaching to the point that the group-class has, on average, reached.

In the case of mathematics, this may involve a brief test, lasting no longer than 15 minutes. A test of this type may be simultaneously carried out by all students enabling an understanding, in a very approximate fashion, of the type of limitations of each student as well as the average level of class knowledge.

In the case of Portuguese, it would be interesting to undertake a rapid reading test, with a duration of not longer than one minute, preferably recorded. The drawback of this test type is that this implies individual application. In the case of students from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years, it is necessary to take into account the speed, the accuracy and the expressiveness of the reading (thus, the fluency). There are national and international norms for reading speeds that are highly useful to ascertaining the individual and the group performance.

The testing of knowledge raises certain problems for implementation, especially as regards reading. It is, nevertheless, feasible to evaluate a small group of students, selecting two or three that the teacher knows have greater difficulties, another couple known to be the average alongside others that are already known to read well. This then loses the individual dimension but safeguards the knowledge about the average level of the group.

Just as is the case with COVID-19, it is of the greatest importance to test the knowledge of students to understand at what point they are, search for difficulties and restart in-person teaching taking into consideration the point of learning students are at and not only where they should be in accordance with the curriculum.


3. Teaching students to learn better through effective strategies

Joana Rato

Neuropsychologist and researcher at the Catholic University of Portugal

In the return to in-person classes, there is also a need to think about empowering the students (especially those that show the maturity to hold more autonomy) as regards applying effective learning strategies. Various research findings indicate that students do not deploy the best learning strategies so that, based on the premise that students have to develop knowledge about a strategy and how to apply it, this makes it necessary for teachers to also work with students as regards the application, planning and commitment to these strategies.

The current pandemic panorama increasingly requires students to obtain proactive roles in managing their studies, implementing efficient training methodologies for the good usage of their strategies, such as that recently tested with university students, contributing to their easier adjustment to the frequent alterations in the means of teaching (in-person or remotely).


4. Invest in the contents of fundamental learning

Harry A. Patrinos

Economist, responsible at the World Bank for the area of education in Europe and Central Asia

Currently, various countries are paying renewed attention to their teaching curriculum as a means of identifying and highlighting the fundamental contents of learning and clearly defining that which students need to know. Thus, they are placing the emphasis on learning patterns and improving the benefits of schooling, which is of extreme importance taking into consideration the low standards of pre-pandemic learning and the losses that have already occurred at the global level ever since the closure of schools.


5. Consider tutoring programs and summer schools

Pedro Freitas

Economist, member of NOVA SBE Economics of Education Knowledge Center

Tutoring programs have been put forward as one of the solutions with the greatest potential to recover learning in the post-pandemic period.

This type of program, with durations varying between 12 and 20 weeks, with sessions lasting from 15 to 60 minutes, whether once or five times per week, has proven gains, measured in terms of learning, of between 3 and 15 months. These impacts are greater whenever the sessions are more frequent and for students in the first years of teaching and for students with greater difficulties and stronger for reading in the early years of schooling and for mathematics in more advanced years.

Although the maximum potential of tutoring emerges when on an individual basis, there are more feasible and less costly formats, with small groups, as suggested by some authors, including Simon Burgess for application in the United Kingdom. The scientific literature identifies how in groups of up to six students, the level of effectiveness is only slightly lower than that returned by individual tutoring.

 

Joana Pais

Economist, professor at ISEG and coordinator of XLAB – Behavioural Research Lab

Portugal has some of the longest of all summer holiday periods. There are 12 weeks in total, the double of countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Why do we not take advantage of some of these weeks of interruption in teaching to make up for some of the lost learning?

Scientific studies demonstrate that summer schools are, in a non-pandemic context, an efficient tool for combating the negative effects of the summer break in learning. In the current scenario, summer schools that integrate an academic component alongside sporting or artistic activities, especially targeting the most harshly hit students, particularly from more disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, may provide a fundamental input into recovering the cognitive losses of the youngest.