Handing out devices was not enough during the lockdowns: the mental health consequences of the shift to distance learning

While the world is now looking at the next disaster movie in Ukraine, we’re also still dealing with the previous one, COVID-19. This study by David De Coninck, Koen Matthijs & Wim Van Lancker based on data from my own home country, Belgium, confirms something we’ve already also seen in Dutch data: handing out devices was needed, but it wasn’t enough:

To improve our understanding of the mental health consequences of the shift to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study examined which factors are associated with increased school-related stress in adolescents. The sample consists of 16,093 adolescents, aged 12 to 18, who were enrolled in secondary education in Flanders, Belgium in May 2020. Stepwise binomial logistic regressions were used to investigate associations between the (online) learning environment, family-, and peer-related factors and increased stress in adolescents, controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. Results show that overcrowding, financial difficulties, and domestic violence are risk factors for increased stress, while social support and no material deprivation are protective factors. These findings suggest that, in addition to distributing the necessary materials for distance learning, also social policy efforts are required to compensate for the negative effects of distance learning. Without this, distance learning may fail to deliver equal educational opportunities and outcomes.

It reminds me of a sad story one of my former students mailed me during the first lockdown. Her school had given a laptop to one of their pupils. The parents had then later sold the device because they needed the money to survive…

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