Monday, March 22, 2021

New Data Confirms Emotional Toll of Virtual Learning

There has been much conversation over the past year about the impact that virtual learning has had on children and families. The ways that virtual learning has been used during the pandemic have varied -- sometimes abruptly -- as school systems and families have reacted to infection rates, clusters of outbreaks, and the availability of vaccinations for faculty and staff. But almost all students have faced reduced class time and many have dealt with the unavailability of effective online learning as well, when families lack computers or efficient high speed internet connections.

A new study released by the CDC has examined the impact of virtual learning on the mental health and well-being of children aged 5-12 by looking at almost 1300 families. Of those families, approximately 46% had children receiving only virtual instruction. Another 31% received in-person instruction and approximately 23% received hybrid instruction, both virtual and in-person.

The study looked at 17 indicators of child mental health and found that children who were getting virtual instruction scored worse on 11 of the 17 mental health indicators. In addition, children learning virtually full or part time spent less time outdoors, spent less time with friends (both in person and online), and reported decreased physical activity. And it wasn't only the children who were affected by virtual learning. The study noted,

"Parents of children receiving virtual instruction more frequently reported their own emotional distress, difficulty sleeping, loss of work, concern about job stability, child care challenges, and conflict between working and providing child care than did parents whose children were receiving in-person instruction."  

None of the statistical findings of the CDC study will come as a surprise. Hopefully, with increased vaccination of teachers and school staff and lower Covid rates as more of the general population gets vaccinated, in person instruction will increase and families and schools can turn to addressing the academic and emotional challenges that have affected children and families during the past year. Making up for the impact of the pandemic will not be easy.