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July 4, 2020
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Czech Agency for Social Inclusion: Those left out of distance learning could go to summer school

21.4.2020 9:25
David Beňák, director of the Agency for Social Inclusion in the Czech Republic, in an interview for ROMEA TV (March 2020).
David Beňák, director of the Agency for Social Inclusion in the Czech Republic, in an interview for ROMEA TV (March 2020).

Intensive support for children from socially disadvantaged environments and pupils with special educational needs who are unable to attend online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic can significantly contribute to ameliorating the impact of their attendance being interrupted. Regular telephone communication by parents and pupils with teachers, as well as arranging for enough technical equipment to reach the families concerned, can be of aid.

Currently it is important to begin planning appropriate forms of instruction to assist disadvantaged children with making up for lost time once the extraordinary measures associated with the state of emergency end and regular school attendance begins again. Those are the findings of research into the available materials about long-term interruptions of school instruction that has been performed by the Czech Regional Development Ministry's Department for Social Inclusion (the Agency).

"Studies conducted abroad indicate that it is necessary for teachers to dedicate instruction even more intensively and individually to disadvantaged pupils and those who were already achieving worse academic results before the interruption," said David Beňák, director of the Agency. It is exactly such intensive communication with and support for the household that can contribute to ameliorating the impacts of school interruption for households that cannot connect to online instruction or that have great difficulties to do so, according to the experiences from abroad.

It is essential to maintain personal contact between specialists and teachers on the one hand and disadvantaged families and pupils on the other, through all available means. In the Netherlands, for example, the authorities recommend teachers regularly contact children and their parents from vulnerable groups by telephone.

"Approximately 3 % of households with schoolchildren in the Czech Republic still are not connected to the Internet. Children from those families have significantly difficult access to instruction and it is necessary to arrange appropriate education methods for them as well. It is very good that some teachers are using telephone communications with parents and pupils here in the Czech Republic. For example, in Chomutov, by doing so they want to prevent the disadvantaged children from falling behind their fellow pupils who have better conditions and backup for distance learning. We are of the opinion that this is the right way forward," the Agency director said.

Making education also accessible to children who do not have the appropriate equipment for distance learning is something that countries are attempting to ensure worldwide. Different methods are being chosen in different places.

In New York the authorities are planning to acquire a supply of computers and tablets to distribute among families with schoolchildren in impoverished areas. China is distributing computers to students from low-income families along with data packages, while France is attempting to arrange access to computers and the Internet for students who do not have it.

In the Netherlands, technical equipment was supplied at the beginning of April to 6 800 pupils. The state is also ascertaining how many pupils and teachers have no Internet access from home and is subsequently planning cooperation with mobile phone operators to resolve this problem by such people taking advantage of mobile hotspots.

"From our research into the experiences abroad it follows that currently it is crucial to begin planning for how the schools will prevent a growth in the differences among pupils that this interruption to school attendance can cause," the Agency director said. The Austrialian think-tank Grattan Institute, in this context, is proposing introducing intensive instruction for small groups of disadvantaged pupils either before or after regular instruction, or holding intensive programs of several weeks' duration that would function like summer schools, on the American model.

"According to American studies of how summer schools work, those attending gain on average a two-month lead compared to pupils from the same environment who do not attend summer school. The British Department of Education assesses summer school similarly. That model, in my opinion, could also be taken advantage of by the Czech schools when planning the return of the most disadvantaged children to regular instruction," the Agency director said.

Agency for Social Inclusion, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Education, France, human rights



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