Impacts of the exceptional teaching arrangements on equity: challenges include distance learning skills and support and guidance for learning

The impacts of the exceptional teaching arrangements and the challenges they pose to the realisation of equality and equity are similar at the different levels of education. The main challenges are related to support and guidance for learning, the skills required in distance learning and IT equipment.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC implements an evaluation that investigates the impacts of the emergency conditions on equal and equitable preconditions for learning in the different parts of the education system. During the spring, evaluation data was collected through online surveys from education providers in basic education and VET, principals in basic education and general upper secondary education, and teaching and guidance staff in basic education, general upper secondary education and VET. Student surveys were carried out in general upper secondary education and VET. The evaluation will continue until autumn 2020, and the long-term impacts will in future be monitored as part of the National Education Evaluation Plan. The first results of the evaluation were published on 18 June 2020.

The purpose of the evaluation is to produce national evaluation data to assess the direction and extent of the impacts of the emergency conditions. The targets of the evaluation are the impacts on learning, assessment, support, guidance and the wellbeing of children and young people.

According to the education providers, principals and teachers in basic education, the main challenges and impacts are related to the support received from parents and its variability, the IT equipment needed in distance learning, and learning self-directiveness. The lack of contact teaching is estimated to have had the most significant impacts on the realisation of equity among students requiring support and students in language minorities.

There were also challenges in VET regarding how students’ equality and equity were realised during the emergency conditions. According to teaching and guidance staff and management, the greatest number of problems have been encountered in work-based learning and competence demonstrations, in supporting the capabilities related to distance learning and in special support. In universities and universities of applied sciences, the transition to distance learning mainly went well. However, during the autumn, it will be important to pay special attention to wellbeing, engaging students back in the student community and the development of the capabilities required in self-directiveness.

The emergency conditions highlighted the flexibility of the Finnish education system as one of its strengths. Very fast, almost the entire education system changed over to using digital solutions in its activities. During distance learning, a variety of operating methods have been developed for teaching and guidance and these can also be taken advantage of in the future. For example, higher education institutions have managed to develop virtual forms of guidance very fast.

Distance learning made self-directiveness a key skill

The self-directive skills required in distance learning and the motivation to learn became the main factors supporting learning during the emergency conditions.  Approximately 70% of those teachers and guidance staff in basic education and general upper secondary education who participated in the evaluation found that the lack of self-directiveness and motivation affected learning to some extent or a lot during the emergency conditions. More than one half of the teachers in basic education and general upper secondary education considered giving feedback more difficult or much more difficult during distance learning. Ninety per cent of the teaching and guidance staff in basic education considered interaction with the learners during distance learning more difficult or much more difficult than in normal conditions.

In the student surveys conducted in general upper secondary education, almost one fifth of the students answered that their study skills were not sufficient for studying during the emergency conditions. Almost one half found their motivation to study poor during the emergency conditions, and many found that their studies did not progress well during the emergency conditions. The lack of skills in self-directiveness was also identified as a challenge by higher education students.

A large part of students in VET found studying during the emergency conditions mentally more stressful than in normal conditions. Some of them experienced difficulties with the equipment required for studying and slightly more than one in ten students found their study skills insufficient. The students were the most critical about the amount of feedback they received on their learning and competence. However, it is positive that almost 60% of the students found that their motivation to study was good also during the emergency conditions.

More attention must be paid to the development of self-directiveness and study skills at different levels of education. As the learning environments improve and diversify, the importance of self-directiveness increases. Distance learning revealed that some learners need more support with planning their studies, setting goals for their learning, getting down to doing things, assessing their learning and taking advantage of the interaction and networks that support learning.  Learning outcomes evaluations also show that the possibility to direct one’s own learning process improves the pupil’s learning outcomes.

Support from home was estimated to have an impact especially in basic education

The variable support received from guardians during the exceptional teaching arrangements was considered to be one of the main factors affecting equal preconditions for learning especially in basic education. In approximately one third of the responses given by education providers, principals and teachers in basic education, the respondents reported that the variable level of support received at home during distance learning created inequality between pupils. In general upper secondary education, the importance of support received at home was estimated to be slightly lower than in basic education. Learning outcomes evaluations have for a long time indicated the impacts of factors related to pupils’ background.  The guardians’ support and appreciation for education are reflected in the differences in the learning outcomes in basic education.

According to providers of basic education and VET, more resources are needed for support and guidance for learning

A large proportion of education providers, principals and teachers in basic education hoped for more investments and additional resources for the general support for learning, remedial teaching, intensified support and special support during the school year 2020–2021 so that the impacts caused by the emergency conditions can be alleviated. More than 80% of the teachers considered learning support arrangements to be more difficult or much more difficult than in normal conditions.

Slightly under 10% of VET providers and approximately 20% of the teaching and guidance staff in VET reported a lot of challenges or problems with regard to personal guidance counselling and student welfare from the point of view of the realisation of students’ equity and equality. All students were not reached during the emergency conditions.

However, the results of the student survey reveal that students in VET and general upper secondary education were satisfied with the support and guidance for learning during the emergency conditions. The majority of the students in both VET and general upper secondary education said that they received enough support and guidance for their studies. One fifth of the respondents in the student survey in VET found that not enough support and guidance was available. However, three in four students found that their studies had progressed despite the emergency conditions.

Interruptions to work-based learning in VET – more guidance would have been required for the transition to working life and further studies

Approximately one in five respondents in the student survey in VET had to interrupt work-based learning because of the emergency conditions. However, the majority of them had been able to continue their studies in an alternative manner. Slightly under one half was able to carry out the competence demonstration either at the workplace or the vocational institution, but one third had to postpone the demonstration to a later date and approximately one fifth could not say how the demonstration was going to be organised. According to the student survey, the majority of those estimated to graduate in spring 2020 will graduate according to schedule. Slightly more than one tenth said that their graduation would be delayed and one fifth could not say whether they would graduate according to schedule. Approximately 60% of those in the graduation stage found they had received enough guidance for transitioning to the world of work and/or applying to further studies, but slightly over one quarter found the received guidance insufficient.

Monitoring of the impacts of the emergency conditions on the strengths of the Finnish education system must be continued

In evaluations implemented over a long period of time, the strengths of the Finnish education system have been the high level of competence achieved through education and its even distribution between regions and language groups. These strengths support the equal achievement of the educational objectives. By international standards, the Finnish education system has succeeded in producing methods that have resulted in the world’s smallest differences between schools at the average level of learning. Evaluations implemented in normal conditions show that the majority of students and teachers enjoy working and studying in their workplaces and institutions. In basic education, general upper secondary education and VET, the level of guidance for further studies and career choices is good.

The evaluation implemented during the emergency conditions revealed that previously identified problems (e.g. availability of pupil and student welfare) intensified during distance learning. Furthermore, the importance of learning support was emphasised during the emergency conditions because it was not possible to support everyone who needed it. The lack of IT equipment also had a considerable impact on the smooth running of distance learning in basic education and consequently on the educational equity and equality of learners. These intensified problems will determine the greatest support needs for the coming school year 2020-2021. According to the evaluation results, strengthening the support for learning and investing in pupil welfare are the areas requiring the most support and additional resources. Those who participated in the evaluation emphasised the need to monitor the impacts of the exceptional teaching arrangements as the possible impacts that are still invisible may not emerge until during the coming school year.

Further information:

Hannele Seppälä, Vice Director, Head of Unit, hannele.seppala@karvi.fi, +358 29 533 5550

Harri Peltoniemi, Director, harri.peltoniemi@karvi.fi, +358 29 533 5532

Summary of results as a slide show (in Finnish):

Impacts of the exceptional teaching arrangements on the realisation of equality and equity. Results of the national evaluation, 17 June 2020

The report on the first phase of the evaluation was published on 11 May 2020 and can be downloaded in Finnish on FINEEC’s website: Background report, synthesis and situation assessment based on completed data material.

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