Hard Lessons | How Our Schools Can Profit From The Pandemic

By 'Alapasita Pomelile August 10, 2023

The New Zealand Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic included the shutdown of schools for weeks. At short notice, teachers and students had to adapt to online teaching and learning when they were not adequately prepared to do so.

This paper examines the experience of the primary education sector over the last few years – how did it cope with the rapid shift in teaching style and delivery, what positives and benefits did a period of fully online learning bring to the sector, and most, importantly, what lessons can be learned?

We decided to focus our examination on the primary school sector because it has largely been overlooked. Most national attention has been focused on the upper secondary school levels (Years 11-13) because that is when national examinations and University Entrance are undertaken. However, primary schooling is tremendously vital as it sets the foundation for secondary and ongoing education. If we do not get primary education right, the long-term shortfalls are costly and more challenging to mitigate at higher year levels.

The paper shows that the experience of schools, teachers and students varied enormously during the COVID-19 pandemic. This reflects partly the different starting points that each school and teacher occupied when online teaching began—some were more familiar with the technology and had greater access to the necessary resources and technology. Our education sector’s varying experience also reflected the pre-existing digital divide: there was a lack of universal access to technology and a lack of the skills and capability needed to use digital technologies to support online learning.

Furthermore, this paper explores how schools and teachers placed a much greater emphasis on prioritising student well-being. We also discuss the great importance of regular communication between teachers, students and their families. However, in the end, the best online education strategies had limited success in overcoming poor learning environments at home. Overcrowding, limited access to devices and a stressful home life were all hard for schools to compensate for remotely.


Hard Lessons

How Our Schools Can Profit From The Pandemic


We finish the paper by making ten recommendations to improve how online learning is carried out in the future of primary schooling in New Zealand. These recommendations are both for the Government and for individual schools. These recommendations include:

  • That the Government should maintain funding streams for addressing learning loss in primary schools over the next five years. This funding should be for additional tutoring programmes in schools to assist with remedial/recovery efforts from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.
  • That schools should develop processes for distance learning and remote working, including education delivery modes, the structure of teaching and learning, and expectations for staff and students.
  • That the Government should continue providing extended subsidies for filtered internet access and digital devices for learners needing digital access in their homes.
  • That the MoE develop monitoring systems to track the digital infrastructures of schools. This would include keeping a database of the number of devices in a school, its distribution across year levels, and the software and digital technologies used in the school curriculum.

Our education system’s response to the pandemic can be summarised as unprepared yet well-intentioned and often commendable, and there is much room for improvement. The experience of COVID-19 and lockdowns taught a number of hard lessons for our education system. It is imperative that we take heed of these lessons so that our education system is more able to deal with further unforeseen disruptions that may occur in our uncertain future.

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