We shared insights and recommendations to address questions around Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic response and the impact on schools and student learning.
Dear Panel Members,
On behalf of Futurity’s 70,000+ members, comprising mainly parents and grandparents of school-going children in Australia, we would like to share insights and recommendations in response to your invitation to address questions around Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic response and the impact on the community.
We hope to assist the panel in its laudable independent review of Australian governments’ response to an event that has altered everyday life for most people.
Based on insights gained from our proprietary research and Futurity’s Education Advisory Panel, we will focus our remarks and suggestions on primary and secondary school education outcomes for students, parents, and teachers during the pandemic.
About us Futurity is an independent and mutually structured financial institution that has been supporting the education journeys of families for close to 50 years. We are Australia’s leading issuer of tax-effective, life-event education bonds designed for individuals and families to save and invest to meet education costs.
Futurity is a trusted mutual owned by members, not shareholders. Since its foundation in 1974, Futurity has helped more than 565,000 children realise their education aspirations and has returned over $3.4 billion in education benefits to members and beneficiaries.
We represent our members’ education interests with strong and active advocacy through ongoing engagement with members and consultation with purpose-aligned organisations. We actively support education community initiatives in line with our commitment to ‘’mutual values’’. Our focus areas include access to equitable and quality education for all, with a current particular focus on regional, remote, and Indigenous education, and teacher quality.
Our submission and recommendations During the pandemic, Futurity surveyed the opinions of parents and educators, through several exclusive surveys conducted with our member base, and via the Futurity supported NEiTA Foundation. We present the following opinions based on the analysis of responses to these surveys.
Adding to the cost of education The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the financial challenge of meeting the cost of education, with parents facing substantial unplanned education related expenses at the height of the pandemic.
An analysis of our Financial Impact of Education of Children at Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic survey showed that educating a child at home during pandemic-induced lockdowns increased the annual cost of education by $1,856 1. This included expenses relating to electronic devices, the cost of setting up a home classroom, textbooks, apps, and software, and higher household costs through lockdown. The additional expense contributed to one-third of parents experiencing either ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of financial pressure as a result of the pandemic. More than a third of parents surveyed (36%) admitted to taking annual leave or unpaid leave to help homeschool a child. Of this cohort, one in three (31%) said that they earned substantially less than the previous year, with 51% of those reporting that their earnings fell by more than $10,000. Accelerating change in the way teachers teach and students learn Among teachers, the double disruption of increased technology use and the pandemic accelerated changes in the way teachers taught and students learned.
As demonstrated by the NEiTA-ACE Teachers Report Card 2021, based on responses to a survey conducted nationally in July 2021 with 571 teachers responding, COVID-19 fast-tracked the implementation of some new or enhanced policies and practices: notably, the provision of videoconferencing facilities, the development of digital learning materials and the introduction of online learning management systems.
The vast majority of teachers across Australia attempted things that they had not done before and adopted new teaching methods. Significantly, seven out of ten teachers surveyed felt able to teach effectively despite the challenges.
Teachers seek more professional development and mentoring Implementing new or enhanced policies and practices including online-ready curricula, requires teachers to be equipped with the skills necessary to teach online. Teachers shared their views on the adequacy of the training they had received. Their feedback suggests that there is room for improvement.
To prepare students for the future, teachers felt that they had to get better at motivating their students and to become better users of information technology in the classroom. Also important were greater application of real-world scenarios in teaching and the need for more training in the management of online classroom behaviour.
With welfare a key consideration, the pandemic reinforced the importance of building strong relationships with students. Most teachers are keen to receive more professional development in all these areas, and it is vital that they be freed up to do so.
Teachers also sought mentoring as it gives them the opportunity to acquire knowledge and expertise, and to learn with and from each other. Mentoring enables teachers to reflect on their practice and analyse it critically. Of those surveyed, 59% said they have benefited from being mentored, either formally or informally, by an experienced fellow educator.
At a time when teacher retention is vital, Futurity contends that much more effort and resources should be put into formal and informal mentoring programs. These initiatives could be aimed at capturing the wisdom of experienced teachers while also offering reverse mentoring from younger educators to gain comfort with new technologies and tech-assisted and progressive teaching methods.
Ways to meet teacher shortage Regardless of technology’s assistance in enhancing the teaching-learning process, few will disagree (particularly after the pandemic remote learning experience) that technology cannot replace teachers in the classroom. This, amongst other reasons, is why we must find ways to retain teachers within the profession and to attract high-quality graduates to teaching.
Futurity acknowledges that teachers transform the futures of their students and that it is an enduring passion for teaching that motivates them to turn up to work each day. However, constant criticism of the teaching profession and the tendency to lay a disproportionate amount of blame for everything that could go wrong in the educational sector on them is resulting in an increasing number of teachers feeling neither satisfied nor positive about their chosen career.
We believe that it is time to let teachers know that we greatly value their contribution to society and to boost the profile of teachers in the community by taking initiatives to raise community confidence in the teaching profession.
What is needed in a future with a hybrid learning model? Post-COVID, schools have been quick to bounce ‘back to normal’. We propose emulating the examples of some schools that have continued with a hybrid learning model where some aspects of their curriculum are delivered online to encourage others to introduce or increase blended learning in classrooms so teachers may play the role of facilitators within the classroom rather than that of mere disseminators of knowledge. This may also have a favourable impact on their considerable workload, particularly administrative tasks.
If we were to make use of the lessons learnt through remote learning during lockdown, we would recognise that online learning is better than no learning. Unfortunately, those with few resources in the home to support their education, with parents lacking either the capacity and/or the capability to support the continuation of learning, have been separated by a widened ‘’digital divide’’. If nothing is done to bridge this digital divide vulnerable student cohorts are likely to again suffer from a greater loss of learning in an online environment than their peers.
Reflecting on the pandemic also offers us the opportunity to remake schooling in a way that is more humane, creative, meaningful, learner-centred, and equitable. If teachers and students are given the support they need to master the art of teaching and learning online, all schools may be able to adopt blended learning to enable virtual classes. This would assist in meeting gaps in courses offered in regional and remote schools and others and enable the enrichment of existing course offerings through online access to experts across Australia or the globe. In short, we can imagine schooling on a larger scale for the benefit of more.
Thank you for this opportunity to present the views of various partners within a school community on this important issue. Through this submission, I hope we can assist the distinguished panel in coming up with ways to reduce the impact of the pandemic on schools and learning and to prepare for future challenges. If you have any questions or feedback regarding this submission, please contact: Ramya Manoharan Advocacy Communications Manager Futurity Investment Group
1 The unpublished COVID-19 research is based on data sourced from a survey conducted by Futurity Investment Group of 1,300 members in December 2021 on the financial impacts of educating children at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.