Only a third of senior high-school students enjoyed learning in Covid year – study

Only a third of senior high-school students enjoyed their learning in last year’s Covid-disrupted year, new research shows.

The Education Review Office (ERO) surveyed students at 67 schools nationally just after Auckland’s August lockdown and found that 65 per cent of primary school students in Years 4 to 8 agreed that “I am enjoying my learning”.

But the numbers “enjoying my learning” dropped to just 39 per cent in the first two years at high school, Years 9 and 10, and 33 per cent in Years 11 to 13.

A broader ERO survey sent to all NZ schools at the same time found that 59 per cent of the 1777 schools that responded had concerns about student progress and achievement because of the lockdowns.

The concerns were much greater in Auckland, because of its second lockdown, and in low-decile schools and for students in Years 11 to 13 who needed to achieve the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Only 24 per cent of NCEA students nationally felt that they were “up to date with my learning”, compared with 48 per cent of students in Years 9 and 10 and 61 per cent of primary school students.

Kelston Girls’ College student Shaniya Singh, who will receive her NCEA Level 2 results on Thursday and will be the school’s deputy head girl this year, said she believed she had done well but “it was still difficult”.

“I hope that we did well. It’s hard to say because everyone was really stressed out,” she said.

“I think it was all just rushed and hectic and something that was not very pleasant for the NCEA and Cambridge students.”

She said most Kelston Girls’ College students already had computers so they were able to learn at home. But Adeline Blair, principal of Kelston Boys’ High School, said 80 per cent of her students did not have devices or internet connections when the first lockdown hit in March, and about 40 per cent still did not have them in the August lockdown despite a Government scheme to provide them.

“By the time we got to the second lockdown we had mostly got what we requested, but the internet access was still a problem,” she said.

“It was really difficult for us to engage our boys in learning because we lacked devices and internet.”

The ERO research, published in four reports on the agency’s website today, says anxiety about Covid and possible new lockdowns will still be an issue for students when they return to school from February 1 this year, and advises schools to monitor and support student wellbeing with staff teams and mentoring schemes.

The agency says no one has asked NZ students before whether they are “enjoying my learning”, but a pre-Covid trial survey of 2000 students in 2019 found that just over half of all students across Years 4 to 13 agreed that they enjoyed their learning. That dropped in the post-lockdown survey to an average across all schools of 49 per cent.

ERO chief executive Nick Pole suggested Covid had “a slight impact”, but that many senior high-school students did not enjoy their learning even in good times.

“We see a general trend that as kids get older, you do see a fall-off in enjoyment. It’s a feature not only in the NZ system but in other jurisdictions as well,” he said.

“It’s probably tied in with interests shifting and whether they are seeing that learning as relevant to their futures.”

The reports offer a long list of ideas for schools, including mentoring schemes such as the Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Stars scheme which trains Year 12 and 13 students to work in groups with Year 9 students to develop self-confidence, resilience and goal-setting.

Shaniya Singh, who was a Stars mentor for Year 9 students last year, said the Kelston mentors responded to Covid by running “Project Kindness”, where every class came up with “kindness acts” such as writing motivational messages in the hallways and writing thank-you letters to their teachers.

“We tried to do a few activities every day so that everyone would leave their morning class [whānau or home class] every day with a fresh smile. I really saw an attitude change for everyone as the year ended,” she said.

Stars national programme developer Adi Cummings said 659 peer mentors worked with 3018 Year 9 students at 16 schools last year.

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