• There are mounting concerns that while students are being encouraged to learn from home, efforts to close the gap in education are going backward. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
As we continue making drastic lifestyle changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns we are moving further away from closing the education gap.
Brooke Fryer

2 May 2020 - 10:51 AM  UPDATED 2 May 2020 - 10:51 AM

There are mounting concerns that while students are being encouraged to learn from home amid the coronavirus pandemic, efforts to close the gap in education are going backward rather than forward.

Wailwan woman Karen Isaacs, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator at Sydney's Oakhill College, told NITV News that during this time, First Nations students continue to be disadvantaged.

"In a lot of ways in regards to closing the gap, it is going to take us further away because there is going to be more restrain on resources, resources won't be available, so it's going to be an unequal share, so that's a big problem," she said.

Ms Isaacs said, however, cultural learning is thriving.

"Aboriginal students are going to be able to spend more time in the bush, learn more Aboriginal traditional methods of hopefully fishing, bushwalking, and doing some painting with the family, and a bit of weaving," she said.

"So, we are going to see a lot of Aboriginal learning taking place, and that is not necessarily going to be shown in the academic data, but I think, that learning to me is equally important."

Under the Federal Government's Closing the Gap strategy, four out of the seven targets are based on the ability to receive a good education. 

Out of those four targets, only two are on track to be met.

State and territory governments said students must learn from home where possible in efforts to help slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Schools, however, are still open to children in vulnerable domestic situations and essential workers.

The new-look education system has changed the way many students learn, with resources and classes moving to the online space, and for those with no internet access, resources have been deployed onto USB sticks.

Wiradjuri woman and mother Haylie Beckett told NITV News she is concerned her son is going to miss out on the most crucial stages of learning, as his second year of school, like many others, has been disrupted. 

"Jace is six years old, he has autism disorder level three, so it's the most extreme autism, he is really struggling not being at school at the moment," she said.

"Jace suffers from anxiety and separation anxiety, and part of coping with autism is having to be in a structured environment. It's really hard at the moment because of his routine not being the same, his support system not being the same and just being with me."

Ms Beckett said that she has reading and writing difficulties herself, making it hard to teach Jace the school curriculum from home, especially with her household having limited internet and no computer. 

Even the distraction of Jace's toys means learning is not at the front of his mind.

"There's other issues as well because he's not at school getting stimulated and doesn't have all the extras the school aid give him, like those special toys and stuff in class," said Ms Beckett. "I obviously don't have all the extra things the school teach him with."

Ms Beckett said she is struggling to be Jace's mother and educator.

"For the past three days, I have not been myself, I'm not doing OK," she said.

"I'm really struggling with the extra pressure of trying to incorporate making sure he is learning and then eating three meals a day because he's not at school, he's not having recess and lunch which I pre-pack," she said.

With little to no contact with her son's speech and occupational therapist, Ms Beckett said Jace is going backward in his social and academic development.

However, Ms Beckett said the school has been offering extra resources and over the phone help whenever needed.

In New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that from 11 May, the third week of term two, she wants to see a staggered return in the hopes that by term three schools will once again be full-time.

But this approach has left Ms Beckett concerned. 

"It makes me more nervous than anything... the teachers may not be the same in term two, recess and lunch are going to be different, that's not the best thing for Jace," she said.

"So I think that's going to be hard for him socially especially when all these other kids are going back to school and they are getting to see each other and re-forming all these relationships, Jace won't be able to be a part of that."

While Victoria is remaining in an online space for term two, telling families to keep their children at home if they can do so.

The state has also offered up to 6000 tablets and laptops for students. 

"If you can learn from home, and you must learn from home," said Premier Daniel Andrews.

Western Australia's Catholic schools and some independent Anglican schools will also kick off term two online. Government schools are offering the option of either in-class or remote learning, catering to parent preference.

While schools work to co-operate with the requests of state and territory governments, education lecturer at CQUniversity Corey Bloomfield is unsure how long e-learning can be kept up for without dramatic changes to curriculums. 

"We are having a lot of students who are learning from home, where parents may be acting as home tutors in some way, with teachers working from schools with emails back and forth and hopefully on some online learning platform here and there. I don't know if that mode is going to be sustainable," he said. 

"Having some sort of hybrid of an e-learning environment... certainly is something we may involve into. 

"Maybe out of this we will rethink how we do education for our kids right across Australia."