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What has the COVID-19 crisis done to our education system?

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Published on Thursday, 22 April 2021

The University of Luxembourg and the Ministry for Education, Children and Youth presented today first insights from the November 2020 ÉpStan (Épreuves Standardisées), the Luxembourg School Monitoring Programme. The 2020 edition of ÉpStan provides representative data of the perception of home-schooling in elementary and secondary schools.

Large-scale tests in the field of education provide crucial information to analyse, understand and manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education system of a country. The annual ÉpStan survey, coordinated by the University’s Luxembourg Centre for Educational Testing (LUCET), provides representative large-scale data from 25,000 pupils in elementary and secondary schools, 15,000 parents of elementary school pupils, and comparative data for 160,000 pupils in elementary and secondary school.

The first insights were presented by Prof. Antoine Fischbach, director of LUCET, Claude Meisch, minister for Education, Children and Youth, and Prof. Stéphane Pallage, rector of the University.

The full press conference can be viewed on the website of the government.

Key findings and conclusions

  • There is no systematic negative trend in competency scores; some losses are recorded (most notably in Grade 3 German listening comprehension), but also some gains.
  • Overall, students and parents coped rather well with home-schooling, which however is not the same as enjoying it.
  • Those who entered the crisis with better circumstances (at least one of the languages of instruction spoken at home, higher socioeconomic status, higher track) pulled through the different schooling system better.
  • Conversely, already existing inequalities have in part been intensified by the crisis.
  • Teachers seem to deliberately adapt their ways and frequency of communication to ensure contact with their students.

Read the full Powerpoint presentation and further findings below.

“Education has been a key research pillar of the University since its inception, and is today established as a research priority,” states Prof. Stéphane Pallage. “As an institution that serves the Luxembourg society, the University has steadily provided high quality research to further the educational dialogue. LUCET illustrates this endeavor with excellent research and outreach tailored for the Luxembourg school system.”

“Luxembourg is not only a champion in testing for the COVID-19 virus, but also in educational testing, which reveals to be a major asset in the present pandemic. To the best of my knowledge, no other country knows today in this granularity, how the crisis and the related home-schooling impacted their students’ learning processes,” adds Prof. Antoine Fischbach. “Of course, testing is not an end in itself. The ÉpStan data allows for rather straightforward conclusions and recommendations, on which we can and must act urgently, to avoid that a sanitary crisis turns into an education crisis.”

“The virus attacks vulnerabilities and weak spots; in general and in the school system. Our education system has been struggling for decades with the adequate handling of increasingly diverse student populations. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this situation, as students who are already statistically at risk have been hit hardest,” concludes Fischbach.

“The last few months were a considerable feat for everyone involved. I would like to thank all the education professionals as well as the pupils and their parents for the collective effort made,” states Claude Meisch. “Despite the enormous challenge, we can conclude today that Luxembourg was able to prevent the health crisis from provoking an education crisis. We have a good chance of getting through this unprecedented crisis without excessive negative consequences if we continue to invest the appropriate means."

Further findings

The perception of home-schooling in elementary school based on ÉpStan parent questionnaires

Coping

In elementary school, parents indicated that students coped rather well with home-schooling in general and in the subjects of Math and French across all grades. Home-schooling in the subject German was however perceived to be more challenging, especially so for students from socio-economically disadvantaged households and/or students that do not speak Luxembourgish/German at home.

Infrastructure

Regarding the technical and material equipment (e.g., internet access, access to laptops/tablets and office supplies), parents generally reported to be rather well equipped, with the situation being slightly more favorable in socio-economically advantaged households.

Motivation

According to parents, the motivation of students during home-schooling was comparable to the regular school setting with girls having been perceived as slightly more motivated than boys. When it comes to the enjoyment of home-schooling, parents’ perceptions were mixed and only approximately half of the students were perceived to consider home-schooling fun.

Additional support

Whereas the majority of students received, according to parents, additional support if needed from teachers and/or classmates, a quarter of the parents disagreed with this perception. Furthermore, students from socio-economically disadvantaged households were perceived to receive higher levels of additional support from teachers and/or classmates, an indication that teachers seem to have differentiated their additional support depending on the students’ needs.

Contact with teachers

In elementary school, teachers and parents/students were found to have regular contact, mostly using e-mail or digital communication services such as Teams or Zoom. Besides remote communication, personal contact in the form of teacher meetings and/or visits was reported. Results further indicate that teachers used different ways of communication depending on the students’ backgrounds, with socio-economically disadvantaged households reporting more contact with teachers, especially so in the form of additional phone calls, text messages and postal mail.

Combining work and home-schooling

When it comes to combining work and home-schooling, parents indicated in general a rather neutral perception, with parents from socio-economically disadvantaged households being slightly more positive about their possibilities to combine work and home-schooling, which could be related to the finding that these parents generally reported less remote work and thus had to balance remote work and home-schooling less frequently.

The perception of home-schooling in secondary school based on ÉpStan student questionnaires

Coping

In secondary school, students indicated across all grades to have coped rather well in general and in the subjects of German and French. Contrary to elementary school, home-schooling in Math was perceived to be more challenging. When looking at the different school tracks of the Luxembourgish secondary school system, especially the highest track students reported to cope well with home-schooling. The lower the track, the less well students reported to cope.

Infrastructure

Regarding the technical equipment, students generally reported to be rather well equipped, with the situation being slightly more favourable in higher school tracks and/or in socio-economically advantaged households.

Motivation

Approximately half of the students were less motivated during home-schooling than in the regular school setting with female students reporting slightly higher levels of motivation. When it comes to the enjoyment of home-schooling, students had mixed perceptions and one third of the students considered home-schooling as being less fun. Students in lower school tracks reported less motivation and considered home-schooling less fun than their peers from the highest school track.

Additional support

Students in secondary school reported to have received additional support if needed from both teachers/classmates and parents/siblings. Students from the highest school track reported to have received more additional support from parents/siblings than their peers in lower school tracks.

Contact with teachers

Secondary school students were in regular contact with their teachers. Whereas the main communication channel identified by students were communication tools such as Teams and Zoom, the usage of different communication tools proved to be more diverse than in elementary school. Results further indicate that teachers used different communication channels depending on the track with lower track students reporting higher levels of teacher contact, especially so in the form of phone calls, text messages and postal mail. Students from the lowest school track furthermore reported more personal contact with their teachers.

ÉpStan test results in elementary school

Whereas standardised test results were found to be stable (in comparison to prior cohorts) in Grades 1 and 5, the development in Grade 3 and especially so in German listening and reading comprehension was of special interest. Regardless of a student’s socio-economic background and/or the language(s) spoken at home, third graders’ competency in German listening comprehension worsened substantially. In comparison, students from socio-economically disadvantaged households and/or students that do not speak Luxembourgish/German at home did worse in German reading comprehension than their peers from socio-economically advantaged households and/or speaking Luxembourgish/German at home.

ÉpStan test results in secondary school

In secondary school, students attending the highest track showed stable (in comparison to prior cohorts) standardised test results in French and German reading comprehension as well as in Math. Students from the lower school tracks however were found to perform worse. Furthermore, female students seem to have handled the situation slightly better than their male peers, as can be seen by some gains for female students from higher school tracks in the language subjects. Regardless of track allocation, Grade 9 students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds generally performed worse than their socio-economically advantaged peers and particularly so in German reading comprehension.

Conclusions

The data from the Luxembourg School Monitoring Programme provides important first insights regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national education system. Although collected with different methodologies and from different subjects (parents and students), the data on the perception of home-schooling and the standardised test results show a homogeneous picture and underline the quality and validity of the data. Based on the findings described above, the following main conclusions can be drawn:

  • ÉpStan test results do not allow identifying a systematic negative trend in students’ competency scores. While there are some losses and most notably so in German listening comprehension in Grade 3, there are also some gains.
  • Overall, students and parents coped rather well with home-schooling without, however, particularly enjoying it.
  • Students facing the crisis with favourable circumstances (such as a higher socio-economic status, a higher track allocation or speaking a language of instruction at home) managed to cope better with the pandemic. Conversely, this underlines that already existing inequalities in the Luxembourgish school system have in part been intensified by the crisis.
  • Teachers seemed to have deliberately adapted their ways and frequency of communication to ensure contact with their students (and parents).

Recommendations

Based on the conclusions drawn, the following recommendations are made:

  • Promoting German listening comprehension and oral competencies in elementary school is crucial and should be fostered as early as possible.
  • Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students that do not speak at least one language of instruction at home and students allocated to lower secondary school tracks should receive more differentiated support.

Outlook

Although the November 2020 ÉpStan data allows first insights regarding the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the national education system, the data that will be collected in November 2021 will allow to investigate whether the observed trends continue after further months of the pandemic. More detailed results from the November 2020 ÉpStan data will be published at the end of this year in the next Bildungsbericht. In the meantime, the ÉpStan 2020 test results have been made available in the ÉpStan Dashboard, which allows for easy in-browser statistical analyses of educational trends.