The distance learning over the past school year: what has happened
Distance learning in an electronic environment (DLEE) in schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups in the 2020/2021 school year was characterized by significantly wider use of synchronous online forms, increasing the percentage of students covered and even more active use of educational mediators compared to the previous school year. However, there is still a large percentage of students who do not participate effectively in distance learning. And the latter creates preconditions and leads to an increase in school dropouts. The most serious problems remain the lack of distance learning devices, as well as the motivation and interest of students, combined with the fatigue and stress of teachers.
This is shown by the data from a survey among 199 school principals from the network of the Amalipe Center “Every student will be a winner”, supported by the Trust for Social Achievement. It was held in the first half of June. The survey followed a similar questionnaire used in March and June 2020. The results allow comparison and analysis of trends. The study was complemented by in-depth interviews with principals and teachers.
According to the data of the Ministry of Education and Science, 908 out of a total of 1834 general education schools (primary, primary, united and secondary schools) have a concentration of vulnerable groups during the current school year. To these we can add 152 vocational high schools out of a total of 378. According to the Ordinance on funding, the concentration of students from vulnerable groups in them is between 20 and 100%, and the vulnerability is determined on the basis of educational status for parents – children of parents with more low from secondary education are identified as vulnerable. As can be seen, almost half of the general education and almost 40% of the vocational high schools have a concentration of students from vulnerable groups.
The school network Every student will be a winner unites nearly 300 schools, most of which have different concentrations of students from vulnerable groups and especially Roma students. It is supported and coordinated by the Amalipe Center. During the first week of the state of emergency, we conducted a survey among these schools on how they introduce distance learning and what problems they face. You can see the results of the incoming survey here. At the end of June, we conducted a similar survey based on the same questions to measure the results of distance learning, the main conclusions and lessons learned. It involved 150 schools across the country. You can see the results of the June 2020 survey here.
Participation in DLEE
How many of your students have been covered by DLEE during 2020/2021 school year (%)
The study shows that over the past school year, schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups have managed to significantly increase the percentage of students covered in distance learning in an electronic environment.
Over 61% of schools included 76% to 100% of their students. Another 31% of schools covered between half and three quarters of their students. In both categories this is an increase of 6% compared to the previous year. In practice, there are no schools left in which less than 10% of students participate in distance learning.
The achieved positive development is even more significant in view of the higher percentage covered in synchronous forms through the platforms Microsoft teams, Zoom.us and others. The efforts of teachers, educational mediators, as well as students and their parents, have led to a fuller scope compared to the previous school year and especially compared to the start of distance learning in March 2020.
However, despite the progress made, serious problems remain in a number of schools. In 8% of the schools included in the survey, less than 50% of the students participated in distance learning. These are primarily a school with a very high concentration of students without suitable devices. In other schools, too, some students did not participate in synchronous online lessons. These are also primarily students without suitable devices or without a suitable internet connection. And motivation and interest in longer participation has been identified as a problem almost everywhere. The last, by the way, applies not only to students from vulnerable groups.
Participation in synchronous forms of distance learning
The June 2021 survey shows a significant increase in the percentage of students participating in synchronous distance learning. A year earlier, most vulnerable schools used Messenger, Skype, and other Internet-based technologies to set tasks and get answers, as well as, of course, educational mediators who distributed printed materials to students’ homes.Synchronous forms of distance learning were used more widely by one third of the schools participating in the survey in June 2020, with between 50% and 100% of students using Microsoft teams, Zoom or other platforms. Another third of schools a year ago said they did not use any form of synchronous online learning or that less than 10% of students participated.
The survey at the end of the 2020/2021 school year shows a significantly different picture. The experience gained by teachers and students, as well as the increased pressure from regional administrations and the Ministry of Education and Science on the use of Microsoft Teams and other forms of synchronous distance learning, has doubled the percentage of schools in which the majority of students participated. online training. 31% of schools indicated that almost all of their students participated in synchronous distance learning, and another 30% were able to include, but between 51 and 75% of their graduates. The percentage of schools that do not or almost do not apply online education has halved – about 15%. These are schools with a high concentration of students without devices, where synchronous distance learning is practically impossible. There are attempts to organize online training in some of them, as the schools have provided premises with computers and internet connection, in which 2-3 students work. In most of these cases, these are schools with a relatively low percentage of students without a device or without a suitable home environment for online learning. Of course, this is a partial solution, which is on the verge of requiring social distance and anti-epidemic measures, and it cannot be widespread. In any case, the results reveal that there is a large group of schools in which synchronous distance learning in an electronic environment is practically impossible until the issue of acquiring a large number of devices and establishing an Internet connection is resolved, as well as no more. the least important – the skills and motivation to work with them. But for the last two to be available, the first two must be provided as basic conditions, and in some remote villages there is no coverage of any of the mobile operators or the internet connection is so weak that it does not allow training through online platforms.
Have you faced these problems during 2020/2021 school year?
- The students did not have devices
- There is no internet in the neighbourhood
- There was no suitable internet plan
- There was limited access of teachers to technologies
- There was limited access of students to technologies
- There was difficult communication with parents
- There was low level of digital competencies among students
- Lack of motivation from the students
- Stress for the teachers during working from home
The lack of appropriate devices, difficulties in maintaining student interest and teacher fatigue are among the main problems hampering distance learning in an e-learning environment, according to the June 2021 survey. Poor internet connection, unsuitable home environment for online learning, difficult communication with parents and lack of digital competences in students are also problems, but to a much lesser extent. What is not a problem, according to the study, is the competencies and technical support of teachers. The vast majority of them were prepared and did according to the directors who filled out the survey.
Over 28% of schools indicated that the majority of their students did not have adequate distance learning devices. It is interesting to note that in this respect there is even a slight deterioration compared to the survey a year ago, when this percentage was over 26%. This deterioration has its logical explanation in view of the increased criteria in the understanding of an appropriate device. If a year ago the presence of a telephone with an Internet connection and the ability to open a messenger was considered as such, now the directors perceive as a suitable device a computer, laptop or tablet capable of communicating in Microsoft Teams. However, the deterioration in this indicator is a matter of serious concern, as in the meantime the government provided funds from the state budget for the purchase of mobile computers in October 2020 and the resources of some of the national programs were mobilized. The schools also conducted their own device recruitment campaigns, and the Amalipe Center’s Old Devices for a New Beginning campaign managed to distribute more than 1,000 devices to more than 90 schools, many of which participated in the survey. It is obvious that the investment of the state budget for the purchase and distribution of 16,000 mobile computers (each school in Bulgaria received a certain amount for the purchase of expensive laptops and the amount was based on the number of students in the school) did not lead to tangible results. One reason for this is probably related to the fact that the funds were distributed on the basis of the number of students and not on the basis of the needs to purchase devices. Most of the schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups are located in villages, teach a relatively small number of students and receive a small number of computers. The latter does not apply to segregated urban schools. Due to the large number of students, they received a larger number of computers, but in them the problem is very far from being solved, as the concentration of students without devices is extremely high. The second important reason is related to the fact that the laptops purchased with funds from the state budget have very high characteristics and respectively a high price. School principals were probably worried about providing these devices to students for home use, and in many places the parents themselves refused to receive and be responsible for such expensive equipment. The principle of distribution of mobile computers under the project “Equal access to school education in crisis conditions”, which is currently implemented with funds from the European Instrument to Combat Covid-19, is similar. This project was not detected by the study, as mobile configurations are currently available and will be used in the next school year. The principle of distribution of devices is analogous to the principle on which laptops were purchased with funds from the state budget at the end of 2020. Purchased laptops have high performance and are distributed among all schools based on the number of students. The absolutization of this principle leads to the fact that schools with students who do not need devices provide a significantly larger number of mobile configurations than schools with a concentration of students without any device, in which the need will not be satisfied. Many principals interviewed through in-depth interviews are in favor of finding a balanced approach between the number of students and the need for distance learning devices that take into account both factors. The extent to which such an approach can be found and applied is a question worth discussing. Most of the principals interviewed expressed concerns about the reaction of the parent communities in the so-called elite schools and the lack of solidarity combined with strong anti-Roma attitudes and prejudices.
Maintaining students’ interest, motivation and engagement is identified as a serious problem. Only 13% of principals believe that this problem affects only 10% of students. More than a third of respondents indicated that more than half of their students lose interest and motivation in long-term distance learning. Even if they formally participate in distance learning, students are often distracted, effortless, and quickly lose active learning habits.
In 43% of schools, more than half of the teachers were subjected to additional stress and overwork in their work at home. The percentage of schools that have the opposite opinion and in which only individual colleagues have experienced some discomfort is not small – about 23%. Analyzing these results, we must keep in mind that many of the schools participating in the study interrupted their attendance for a relatively short period of time, as most of their classes are composed of one class.
The vast majority of the surveyed principals express support for the measure to restore the attendance in the classes with one class each. This measure was introduced in early February at the insistence of many schools and the Amalipe Center. Only 6% of directors disagreed with this measure, and 3% indicated the option “I can not judge / Other”. It is significant that the measure is also supported by the majority of schools, which could not benefit from it due to the large number of students and classes. However, the idea of supporting the return of the largest possible percentage of students to classrooms is widely shared by the professional community.
How do you assess the measure for returning back to school of students who are one class in a grade?
The role of educational mediators
The study strongly confirmed a trend that was clearly outlined a year ago, namely the huge role of educational mediators in reaching the maximum number of students during the DLEE. Almost 84% of schools actively involved educational mediators in distance learning and only 4% did not use their help in this emergency situation. In just over 12% of the schools surveyed, there is no educational mediator. The trend was similar in June 2020, when 1/5 of the schools did not have an appointed educational mediator. The increase in the percentage of schools with an actively involved educational mediator is due to the fact that during the current school year many schools appointed such schools using the funds for working with vulnerable groups under Article 52a of the Funding Ordinance and the Success Support project.
Did you use the educational mediator? (Yes/ No/ We do not have a mediator)
What activities have educational mediators been involved in distance learning? Over 78% were engaged in delivering printed materials to the homes of students without devices. But their role is by no means limited to this. Nearly 43% of directors indicate that mediators have also consulted on the tasks set. Over 52% provided technical assistance to students and parents with low digital competencies, how to use Microsoft Teams and participate in synchronous online learning and more. It is no exaggeration to say that the role of educational mediators in schools with a concentration of vulnerable groups has been key, both for the achievement of all students and for the quality inclusion of the children reached. The desire of the principals to extend the project “Support for Success” is categorical, especially in its part for the appointment of educational mediators. It is necessary to find a sustainable way to pay and train mediators.
How do you assess the work of the educational mediator? (6 is the highest, 1 is the lowest)
Beyond the specific problems of conducting distance learning
The increase in school dropouts, including due to early marriages and loss of motivation, as well as the loss of valuable social and learning skills, are some of the negative consequences of distance learning in an electronic environment over the past school year. Increased school dropout is particularly visible on average, as well as geographically in some regions such as Sliven and Yambol. But prerequisites for it are present in many other schools. Distance learning in the previous and current school year in practice called into question the achievements of the coverage mechanism in the period 2017 – 2019. Reintegrated students with great effort easily find a way out of school in absentia, and the fragile interaction with other institutions in many places has completely disappeared. Unfortunately, the inter-institutional coverage teams did not recognize the topic of involving all students during distance learning. It is widely believed that long-term distance learning in an electronic environment has led to the loss of difficult-to-develop learning skills and many other valuable social skills.
Author: Deyan Kolev
However, all the figures we have listed above remain mere statistics if we do not make sense of them through the emotions, experiences and experiences of teachers, principals, parents and students. That is why we share some of the opinions below. We hope they best immerse you in the atmosphere:
Share a good example from the work of an educational mediator?
- The contact with the parents from vulnerable groups is made 100% by the mediator
- He was among the traveling students every day, provided technical assistance to the parents of the young students if necessary, and bought vouchers for the Internet at the school’s expense.
- The educational mediator played a key role throughout the school year. The most strategic is its place in the morning hours of the school’s daily schedule, in which, after consulting with the teachers, the educational mediator again visits the students’ homes and motivates or accompanies them to the school to attend classes.
- With the educational mediator in our Primary school …… we “won the lottery”. All that was required of the mediator was done by him – walking in the neighborhood, talking to the parents, handing out worksheets, collecting them, counting the children every day, calling the parents on the phone, handing out fruit and milk, describing the activities that everyone had done day, kept protocols for home visits, even participated in a plan – admission of students in 1st and 5th grade.
- He gave advice to students not covered by DLEE; worked in the field; provided technical support to children and parents with low digital skills
- Effective communication between school and community
- Field work has led to more productive and engaging work with parents.
- Conducted training for parents to work in Teams. He supported the work of teachers and students on a daily basis.
- When the students had a test, she gave them the printouts as quickly as possible, then collected them again, took pictures, and sent them to the teacher for review.
- Heartily and responsibly, she shared the problems she observed in the students’ homes and looked for ways to support the children in an appropriate way by the school.
- Monitoring students for timely inclusion in classes and prevention of absences for disrespectful reasons
- Every morning he joined the virtual classrooms and in the presence of absentees he assisted the teachers – he called parents and students. Thanks to the educational mediator, the % of participation of students in DLEE was high every day.
- He was adequate and helpful to students and parents who needed help. He assisted students in their preparation for testing, conducted field consultations, as well as training students and parents on the need to comply with all anti-epidemic measures and work in COVID-19. Together with the principal, he met with mayors and Internet providers to help families in need, distributed not only printed teaching materials, but also food that the school provided to students and their families, and promoted student success.
- The student-teacher-parent relationship has deepened
- He carried out the campaign for delivery of electronic devices from the school to those in need extremely responsibly, helped with the installation of the platforms and at the end of DLEE returned the electronic devices to the school after an inspection. Impressive was his work with students with SEN – to ensure school attendance, to comply with anti-epidemic measures, to talk to parents about the gaps and progress of students.
- The educational mediator was our first assistant in our work during the pandemic. There was not a day that he was not among the parents and the children. Very often he even helped the children to solve the worksheets.
- Daily conversations and meetings with students, parents, teachers, social workers; home visits; takes over some of the activities in the absence of some teachers and is in very direct contact with the class teachers
- Every day he connected with the families from the village and tried to encourage and control them, as well as daily communication of the teachers by phone with the students and conducting conference calls.
- The educational mediator at school was involved in all activities in the training at ORES. Through the information campaign and the help in the field work, he helped the students to get involved in synchronous learning in the platform used by our school.
- despite the situation, he went to the field, met with parents and persuaded them that they should get involved in the training, distributed materials on paper and took them back, distributed food materials
- Regardless of the weather conditions, the educational mediator managed to reach every student who did not have an electronic device.
- constant communication with families with troubled students; intervention in overcoming a number of conflict situations between students; provides information to active parents during school life campaigns. Assists in enrolling 5 new students this year – returned from abroad or left a previous school.
- The mediator did so much daily work that it is difficult to specify. Provide the Internet to a student with personal funds.
- Through his work, the educational mediator built a bridge between the school, students and parents. He kept in touch with teachers and students on a daily basis, and encouraged them to be regular in e-learning. He worked in the field each week, distributing worksheets to students who had problems with the Internet or devices, and was actively involved in communication between parents and the school.
- The educational mediator is an example of a successful young man with a clear vision for his development. A permanent example to our students that a person can do anything, just want it and make an effort for his dreams. He himself grew up in institutions, supporting himself after coming of age, is currently a student at Sofia University and with my firm position that he will be an integral part of the school team.
Share success or failure in relation to distance learning?
- The success is the inclusion of the maximum number of students in DLEE, by providing equipment and internet access from the school.
- The anxious students in the classroom managed to do much better in DLEE
- All students were covered during the training in an electronic environment. With the help of the educational mediator, a sixth-grader was prevented from dropping out.
- The lack of a live connection with the children lowered the tone of life of the whole school; after returning to school most of the learning habits had to be built from level zero; a large proportion of families speculated about the danger of Kovid 19 and children accumulated more absenteeism than in previous years. However, the need to teach online has significantly increased the IT culture of most teachers and they feel free to learn new technologies at work, communication, family connection.
- For us, success lies in engaging students and improving their digital competencies. The students developed skills for working on shared presentations, making climatograms, associations through applications and others.
- Compared to the previous school year, it is a success, but there is still much to be desired.
- Parents began to control their children and digital competence increased
- Teachers and students are increasingly dealing with electronic resources and platforms.
- The seventh grade students managed to organize themselves to conduct activities on “Support for Success” in an electronic environment for the preparation of NGOs. It was a success to return all students with single classes to a face-to-face school!
- E-learning has forced teachers to seek and use more e-resources to illustrate the teaching material taught. This enriched their knowledge and skills and created more confidence in them.