Young minds will bounce back despite learning gap, expert says

BOSTON — A high percentage of Massachusetts school children will be learning from home, at least part of the time, this fall.

Remote learning has received mixed reviews at best. Its widespread return is leading to a concern that today’s students could suffer long-term consequences.

This is something that’s now referred to as the Learning Gap.

“I do worry the longer this goes on they’re going to start not learning and have trouble down the road,” said Sarah Harris, a mother of three.

Martin Scanlan, a professor of education at the Lynch School at Boston College, said that people fear a gap in the learning process after experiencing the abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring.

“There wasn’t a lot of planning for that,” Scanlan said.

Sam Harris, a rising sophomore, felt the quality of his education dropped when his school went remote.

“The motivation was pretty low. I wasn’t interacting with my teachers nearly as much, or with other students,” he said.

His sister Sophie, a rising junior, agreed.

“Since people are less engaged, they’re just focused on getting by and getting the grades they want and they’re less focused on actually learning the curriculum,” she added.

A survey of 1,500 Massachusetts parents by the MassInc Polling Group found that just 36 percent said their children participated in an online class every day, while 33 percent said their child logged on just a few times a week.

Scanlan is optimistic this fall will see improvements because school systems have had time to plan for remote education. He believes expectations should be high for both families and educations.

“Because if the expectations are just tamped down and we say, ‘well you know the learning can’t happen just because it has to look different right now because of the crisis we’re in,’ then that will not be productive,” he expained.

Scanlan also points to how the young mind is wired.

“Children’s resiliency is tremendous, and one of the important pieces to remember is that children don’t stop learning when they’re out of school,” he said.

As remote learning gets baked into the educational system, Scanlan says bridging the digital divide becomes more important than ever.

“When you have students, who have access to computers and internet technology, and students who don’t, then their opportunities to learn are going to be disparate. So, there are legitimate concerns about the pandemic exacerbating those gaps that we have,” he said.

For now, Sarah Harris is most focused on keeping her kids healthy and happy.

“Hopefully, because everybody is in the same boat, we’ll all be able to catch them up,” she said. “That’s my hope anyway.”

Professor Scanlan said from a developmental perspective, younger students benefit the most from in-person teaching, which is why he expects some districts will bring back lower grades first.

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