Lost Learning or Unmeasured Learning?

Is ‘lost learning’ the right term?

As Covid-19 vaccination programs begin, children in many countries have begun to return to school.  This has prompted wide discussion of the consequences of the time spent learning online. Much has been documented about the impact of lost school based learning on the world’s more vulnerable children (UNICEF), the inequity of online learning (See this post), and what is now being termed ‘lost learning’. Some publications have sought to approach this from the perspective of well-being. Others looked at educational opportunities whilst some have even go so far as to draw predictions about the future economic impact on children.

Whilst there has clearly been a significant impact on children and learning during this crisis, some things remain unclear. Such as whether learning has truly been ‘lost’, delayed, or diverted into areas we do not currently measure. And in all of that, is a very public narrative of a whole generation of children being ‘behind’ helpful or harmful?

Measuring learning during Covid-19 and school lockdowns

A long-held notion in education is that we should ‘measure what we value, and value what we measure’. If we hold this statement to be true, then what we have valued (for the most part) has been children’s’ progression in a limited number of academic disciplines. In this context, children who are to be measured this year (through exams, assessments, etc.) may well be in a position as deficit. This is because they have not had them same time and opportunities to meet the standards expected of them as their peers from previous years (REF). This has led to a global debate about these exams and assessments and how fair it is on either this cohort, or previous cohorts to keep/change these processes.

However, if we challenge the notion that formal assessment points give a thorough picture of the things we value in education, then we may pose the question ‘Have children lost learning, or have they been learning something we are not (yet) measuring?’

The IB PYP has recently made a powerful shift in the Enhanced PYP to evidencing learning . This distinction that gives students and teachers ownership of how to build an accurate picture of learning. This picture may include, but is not confined to, traditional formative and summative assessment check points. Perhaps then, a good question to ask ourselves is ‘What have our children learned, and how can they share it?’.

Unmeasured Learning

If we reshape our language away from ‘lost learning’ and focus on unmeasured learning, it does not detract from the challenges outlined above, but perhaps offers a way to look at the issue differently. Think of all the children who have spent time cooking, playing with siblings, drawing, using new technologies, talking to relatives, and so on. And those are just a few identifiable skills, what about the resilience to handle change? Or a greater appreciation of the relationships they have?

Many schools have changed their educational programs to include more learning which focuses on well-being. These have aimed to give children both opportunities to reflect and some of the skills to handle all the past year (and more) has thrown at us all. We don’t assess this (and shouldn’t) – but as an educator and a parent I can see the value it has.

Many of us now know (or perhaps believe we know) more about viruses, immunity and infection control than we ever have. Rewind 2 years and imagine trying to have e a conversation with someone about the current ‘R rate’ and how you think it will be affected by school closures! How many more of our children are growing up with an exposure to science, medicine, etc. like never before? Will more of them be inspired to carry that forwards into new learning or perhaps even future problem solving?

Of course, this raises a new question.  We are not measuring other learning, development, and exposure to ideas that may be taking place. So how do we know if there’s more of it happening, and if it holds benefits for our children? How does these potential benefits weigh up against the mapped curricula for their age? Are the same children who have missed out on school getting more of these experiences? Or it this another dimension of the disadvantages they already face?

Photo of a child cooking at home as an example of learning
One example of some of the learning that can happen at home

Broadening the Conversation

What’s clear to me is that the discussion about what education should look like as we move forwards is never going to be as simple as ‘these children are behind so they need to do more hours now to catch up’. We need to broaden the conversation to consider these questions and many more;

  • Are there skills and understandings our children have practiced/developed that fall outside of what we traditionally value and measure in education? If so, are some of these worth finding ways to promote/continue?
  • What unexpected strengths are we seeing as children return to school?
  • In our school we have seen a surge of self-expression. Seesaw as a platform to record your thoughts and ideas has led to thousands of hours of content in which children have found a voice, a style and a space. Can a conventional school setting honour this?
  • If children are behind in school subject areas, how do we make next year more effective rather than just busier?
  • What might we lose if we try to prioritise lost areas? Can we afford those losses?

Avoiding a deficit model

An additional consideration here is how harmful the notion of ‘lost learning’ could be. We already know sadly too much about the negative impact of labeling students as ‘behind’. But this national and global deficit approach is risky. It implies learning is just an accumulation of hours spent in school. And that is fundamentally untrue. Do we need to take a fresh look at what teacher? Yes. Do we need to make sure we’re using effective practice to maximise learning opportunities? Yes. But we can do this without undermining our students growth in the past year, or labelling them negatively for the years to come. For more on this check out this piece from Matt Bromley; https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/lost-learning-why-we-must-avoid-a-deficit-teaching-model-post-lockdown-and-how-we-can-do-it-pedagogy-catch-up-coronavirus/

A brief word on challenging inequality

One significant discussion is on the disproportional impact of the pandemic on the learning of children from already disadvantaged communities. This cannot be ignored. The gaps for these children have grown further still during the pandemic. However, the systemic inequalities that are pervasive in society are simply not going to be undone by offering after school tutoring, etc. This is a hugely important issue for me. But not one for this particular post – so perhaps it’s something to discuss in the future.

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