"Exhausted beyond measure," panel presents findings on teaching during COVID

Published 21 May 2021

COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change across the globe. While some industries have suffered more than others, few would dispute the effect the pandemic has had on the education sector.

The ‘Reimagining education: Learning from COVID-19’ will present the findings of a 2020 survey of more than 600 teachers' experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe.

Associate Professor Louise Phillips, Director of Higher Degree Research in the Faculty of Education, has spent the last year researching teaching during COVID, and will chair a panel at the Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus this week to present the findings.

"Teachers are exhausted beyond measure. The impact of lockdown and the sudden shift to online learning escalated their workloads," said Professor Phillips, who led the Teaching & Learning in COVID-19 Times study with nine researchers across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the USA.

The team listened to the voices of teachers as they shared their lived experiences of education during the pandemic. More than 600 teachers participated in the survey of open-ended questions, each shedding light on the permanently changed education landscape.

In response to the question, "What are the issues you are struggling with?" the number one answer was online teaching.

"And the number one reason for this is access,” Professor Phillips said. "Not everyone has internet access. Eighty-five per cent of households in the US have access, and in remote areas of Australia, only 77 per cent of households do. In metropolitan areas, it’s 88 per cent."

And that's just access, let alone reliable access or the necessary devices to make remote learning successful.

"It's not an even playing field, and it affects at a guess half of the student population, across all sectors," she said.

Distance education from home also demands the capacity to independently manage learning. Many students require guidance and support to access and navigate learning, for example, students with physical and learning disabilities who require individual assistance. Access to this support, that schools can provide, was not available at home. Further, the hands-on and play-based practices of early childhood education could not be readily translated to an online experience. Many students who could not access continuous education were quick to fall behind.

The study also found that even if students had adequate access, teachers were not adequately trained for fundamental changes. Not only were they expected to become digital learning designers overnight, but they were also expected to know how to use the tools and resources handed to them in a meaningful way.

"There was a real lack of training and support," said Professor Phillips.

Teachers reported workloads increasing by more than 150 per cent, adding days to their paid workload. Pressure from employers and teachers themselves is still being felt today. Many teachers reported burnout in the study due to the long work hours and increased workloads.

"It is a crisis," Professor Phillips said. "And it's not being recognised as such."

Teachers felt unsupported while they saw other frontline workers recognised in the public debate.

"The teacher's role in this pandemic has been understated," she said.

"World Bank Economists have calculated that the learning losses due to COVID-19 could add up to USD 10 trillion, when measured over the lifetime of students who have not attended school, or who have had limited access to school during COVID."

And that was calculated in July 2020.

Professor Phillips said the education sector needs more investment, more flexibility, more customisation, and more staffing to catch up.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education dramatically and urgently," she said. "It has been a catalyst for change. It has invited us to relook at education, and highlighted disadvantage."

During the panel discussion next week, Professor Phillips will take the audience through the insights garnered from the Australian respondents of the study. She will also discuss some key ideas about reshaping education in the post-pandemic landscape.

Other panellists will discuss the effect of COVID-19 on education in New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Higher Education across all nations.

The Reimagining Education: Learning from COVID-19 panel will occur on Friday, 28 May 2021, from 10:00 am – 11:30 am AEST at Southern Cross University, Gold Coast Campus. You can register for this event here.

Media contact: Media and Content team, content@scu.edu.au