Class of Covid-19: The disruption to education


By: Chloe Bunce, BA Sociology student

The Coronavirus pandemic introduced unforeseen challenges; the education system was greatly impacted to the extent that school closures occurred. Social theorists such as Imogen Tyler see societal institutions as ‘stigma machines’ with the example of education during the Coronavirus pandemic, figures revealed a growing 46% learning gap between more affluent students and less affluent students (Adams 2020) annually. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic where the ‘digitalisation of education’ (Goudeau 2021) has resulted in distanced learning and increased reliability on technology to carry out teaching remotely. However, there is disparity in terms of what technology pupils can actually access at home. Theorist Beck (1992) would view the coronavirus pandemic as not only a result of globalisation but that school closures pose a risk to the academic achievement of students; prolonged time away from school and educational campuses infringe on opportunities as well as secondary socialisation.

Disruption and inequality

Students at different educational levels experienced disruption in their studies and there is a concern that the educational gap in education has worsened due to the pandemic. This is troubling as the educational institution is crucial in ‘levelling the playing field’ (Crawford et al 2015). School closures meant that students were unable to attend school unless their parent or guardian was a key worker, with e-learning entering the education sphere, most schools ensured that students could enrol in online classes. This new educational context increasingly involved parents and guardians, despite this, some disadvantaged pupils struggled with the e-learning approach due to limited resources; some students lacked facilities and technologies such as computers to access these online classes. In fact, statistics show that 20% of students who qualified for free school meals did not have access to a computer at home (Goudeu 2021). This shows disparity amongst the social classes, despite the need for increased resources, in October 2020 the government in fact reduced the amount of laptops for students working remotely by 80% (Ferguson and Walawalkar 2020).

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/focused-students-doing-homework-at-home-3769995/

As well as this, studies found that some of the poorest families did not have access to their own study space and were less well equipped for distance learning than higher-income families. The pandemic has further revealed both a digital divide and the extent of material deprivation, in terms of social class; a survey found 30% of middle class children were more likely to take online lessons every day than 16% of working-class students (Goudeu 2021). Whereas families who could afford private tutors as well as technology to aid their education, in fact students in fee-paying schools are more likely to have access to such technologies. There is increasing concern that materially deprived and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students may be more behind as a result of remote learning. Thus there is disparity amongst students working remotely and ultimately this will affect educational achievement.

The impact on A level grades and university students

Coronavirus affected students in a myriad of ways, A-Level students in 2020 were ascribed predicted grades and examinations were cancelled due to the risk of coronavirus. Instead final grades would be based on teacher assessed grades, the basis of these grades were on mock results, general progress throughout the years, any coursework and progress trackers. The centre-assessed grades carried out by teachers, had to be mediated to ensure the grades were not overzealous or grandiose. However the response to this was mixed, there was uproar amongst students who some did not get sufficient grades to be rejected by desired universities. As a result, the government carried out a U-turn to scrap the ‘standardisation model’ (Weale & Stewart, 2020) which meant that grades would reflect the centre-assessed grades first put forward by teachers. Students in higher education equally experienced a digitalised model of education. Students who joined university in September 2021 experienced the majority of their lectures online, and similarly to secondary education, lost out on valuable in person tuition. However, in November 2020, students residing in student accommodation such as halls were forced to stay in and were prohibited from leaving the campus. In fact, some university halls went to the lengths of erecting fences around the campus to prevent students from leaving. In particular, this restrictive “prison-like” practise was carried out in University of Manchester’s Fallowfield halls of residence where students felt “trapped” and “lonely” (Kenelley 2020). Social theorist Foucault (1976) would see this as a control on students as a form of perpetual supervision, students were monitored by security employed by halls of residences; their role was to prevent people entering campuses and residents from leaving it.

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-wooden-rectangular-table-159213/

The coronavirus pandemic in some ways reformed education as it aided in advancing digitalisation practices, however it mostly highlighted the inequality amongst students and accessibility to technology when working remotely. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic was deeply impactful and disruptive to the education to students of all levels, for example students who were ascribed grades which may have not been a fair reflection on their academic efforts as well as university students who paid up to £9,250 a year for a course that were mostly taught online.

References

  • Adams, R. (2020). Gap between rich and poor pupils in England ‘grows by 46% in a year’. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/01/disadvantaged-and-bame-pupils-lost-more-learning-study-finds [Accessed February 1, 2022].
  • Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage
  • Crawford et al. (2015). Does higher education level the playing field? Socio-economic differences in graduate earnings. Education Sciences, 5(4), pp.380-412.
  • Ferguson, D. and Walawalkar, A. (2020). Laptop Allocation for England’s schools slashed by 80%. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/oct/24/englands-schools-to-receive-fewer-laptops-for-distance-learning [Accessed February 1, 2022].
  • Foucault, M. The Birth of The Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated from French by A.M. Sheridan. 1976. Suffolk: Routledge New Ed.
  • Goudeau, S, et al. (2021). Why lockdown and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to increase the social class achievement gap. Nature Human Behaviour, 5, pp.1273-1281. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01212-7
  • Kennelly, L. (2020). New lockdown: Manchester University students pull down campus fences. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-54833331 [Accessed February 1, 2022].
  • Weale, S. & Stewart, H. (2020). A-level and GCSE results in England to be based on teacher assessments in U-turn. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/aug/17/a-levels-gcse-results-england-based-teacher-assessments-government-u-turn [Accessed February 1, 2022].

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