Written by Josephine Woods, 28/01/2021 

Students across the UK have been attending online learning for one month, and recently Boris Johnson announced that schools will be going back on 8th March. Although people are relieved, online learning has problems that need solving. No one knows how long COVID is going to carry on for, and online learning, if improved, could not only provide a functional alternative to in-person education but could completely change the way education is structured. There are three main problems that need to be addressed and those are equipment, mental health and workload. 

The first of these problems is that a growing divide is becoming more and more obvious among the children in school right now: those who have internet, laptops and space, and those who have to share or don’t have it. There have already been plenty of fears about the ‘lost generation’, whose who are in education during COVID who are losing time and opportunities usually offered in a normal year. These can be as complex as usual work experience or as basic as in person teaching. For children who have to share laptops with other siblings, there is a solution being offered, as the government has made a plan to provide free laptops and internet access for families struggling with the demands of online learning. However, the Observer reports that, ‘A survey of more than 1,000 headteachers by the grassroots campaign group Worthless? Found that more than 90% said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “the National Tuition Programme is working effectively to support students in school”.’1  

This is, needless to say, not a good sign. Children’s education should not have to suffer because of their personal situation. The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, also said in the Observer: ‘the catch-up programme already outlined by the government now needed to be “rocket boosted” in light of the new round of school closures.’2 If the programme was significantly scaled up, it would help families living in poverty or struggling with finances all over England.  

Mental health is also a big problem. Teachers were always in a unique position to monitor vulnerable students as well as whether students were struggling with mental health, but now it is a lot harder. Although schools are trying, the highly pressurised environment that is the huge amount of work teachers and students are now expected to do can make it harder for a student to admit they need help. Burnout is a big problem, as are feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. This is an uncertain situation, and not feeling ok all the time is ok, but when these feelings start to persist, it can lead to decreased motivation and serious mental health issues, for adults and children. This is why something is needed to fix this. One possible solution is a mental health officer at school, if schools don’t already have one. As well as this, students should be encouraged to call each other and do the work together if they aren’t already and students themselves should try to set clear work/life boundaries so that they can fully switch off. Obviously, this won’t work for everyone, but setting a certain time to stop working is a good habit, as long as the time isn’t too early and the student was working up until then.  

Workload is another serious issue. Teachers cannot be expected to translate all their lessons into online content in such a short amount of time with equal quality across the nation. There needs to be a national approach. At the moment, schools differ wildly on workload which leaves some students with lots of independent work and two-three online lessons a week and others with full time online lessons. This results in extreme differences in education. The important thing to note is that the schools are not to blame. All schools are attempting something completely different from anything done in anyone’s lifetime, and they need support. The government cannot just expect schools to accomplish this with little to no support. Just like there is a national curriculum there is guidance on online learning, but it is incredibly vague and tells the schools nothing about how to accomplish online learning. The fact is that schools have been thrown into a field of technology that thanks to budget cuts and not needing it before now, they have little experience with. There needs to be a clear and concise national standard of online learning, along with exact instructions on how to do this, otherwise the response is unpredictable.  

In conclusion, if these three problems were solved, or if the government improved its solutions, online learning could be a lot easier. COVID isn’t going anywhere, and neither is online learning. So, if the government is going to continue to dance around questions concerning future exams for students currently in Year 10 and 12, not taking exams this year but still very much affected and expect students to come out of this with something resembling a standard education, they need to act. The government faces the opportunity to give so many children the future they deserve, as unhindered as possible from COVID, and they have to act. Otherwise, this really will be the lost generation, and the damage that will do will have ripple effects long after COVID is gone.  

1. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/10/schools-catch-up-scheme-needs-a-rocket-boost-says-childrens-commissioner. Published 10/1/2021. Michael Savage and Donna Ferguson, the Observer, ‘Schools catch-up scheme ‘needs a rocket boost’, says children's commissioner’. 

2. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/10/schools-catch-up-scheme-needs-a-rocket-boost-says-childrens-commissioner. Published 10/1/2021. Michael Savage and Donna Ferguson, the Observer, ‘Schools catch-up scheme ‘needs a rocket boost’, says children's commissioner’.