It is estimated one billion children worldwide have had their schooling disrupted due to COVID-19 and the startling figure has given Charles Sturt University academics an idea for research that could have wide-reaching benefits.
A team of Charles Sturt academics, including Associate Professor Lena Danaia in the School of Teacher Education and Associate Professor Amy MacDonald, Dr Jacquie Tinkler and Mr Steve Murphy in the School of Education, have been awarded $20,000 of COVID-19 research grant from the University.
Their project ‘COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of primary school Mathematics and Science education: challenges and successes’ aims to discover what was learned by teachers and parents as they delivered in-depth subjects remotely.
Mr Murphy said mathematics and science is best learned working with others, with the use of practical equipment and concrete materials, especially for primary school-aged students.
The COVID-19 school closures made working this way more challenging, and is feared to have had a detrimental effect on how students now feel about mathematics and science.
“This disruption could have long-term effects,” Mr Murphy said.
“Children can start turning off mathematics and science in primary school in response to negative experiences in these subjects.
“The disruption could have exacerbated the disengagement issues in mathematics and sciences that we knew already existed.”
However, the COVID-19 disruption could lead to innovations in mathematics and science education.
Teachers and parents adopted their own innovative practices, including new uses of digital technology, to continue to educate from home.
“Teachers and families have had to experiment with new practices,” Mr Murphy said.
“Students risked losing a chunk of mathematics and science learning, and teachers and parents have done an awesome job seeking ways to prevent that.”
Teachers have had to think creatively about at-home mathematics and science learning to keep their students engaged and Mr Murphy said there is much that can be learned from that.
“Parents and caregivers supporting learning at home have tried various strategies to respond to the learning needs of their children,” he said.
“Digital technologies less frequently used in a primary school context have been employed in new ways.
“This nation-wide and world-wide experiment in at-home learning could reveal new strategies for enhancing mathematics and science education long term.”
While the findings of the research, although currently unknown, could inform teaching STEM subjects during future pandemics, the research team is primarily focused on the ways the findings could enrich mathematics and science education during regular schooling.
The research may reveal new teaching approaches and home-school partnerships that will be effective and engaging well after primary schools have returned to normal.
Researchers are calling on primary school teachers and parents of primary school aged children to participate in the study.
Two Facebook groups (one for parents, another for teachers) will be established to facilitate discussions about experiences in delivering mathematics and science subjects during the pandemic.
Those interested in participating can contact Mr Murphy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr Murphy expects preliminary findings to come through by September 2020 with a final conclusion reached by deadline on Sunday 31 January 2021.