TORONTO, Ontario (CBS13/CTV Network) — A study of Canadian students suggests that children who learned remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic reported they felt they ‘mattered less’ than their peers who studied in-person.

The study, entitled “In-Person Versus Online Learning in Relation to Students’ Perceptions of Mattering During COVID-19: A Brief Report” was published Friday in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.

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Researchers examined students’ perceptions of mattering during the pandemic in relation to in-person versus online learning in a sample of 6,578 Canadian students from grades 4 to 12 as part of a “Safe Schools audit.”

Students were asked to reflect on their school experiences from September 2019 to March 2020 and compare it to their experiences from September 2020 until November 2020.

The study found that elementary school students who attended school in-person reported feeling that they mattered the most, followed by secondary school students who learned part-time in-person and the rest of the time online.

The students who felt that they mattered the least were those who learned online full-time during the pandemic, for both elementary and secondary students, the study says.

The researchers wrote that attention has been paid to the efficacy of online learning on the reduction of virus spread, its impact on learning loss and mental health, but not much consideration has been made to the social and emotional implications of the teaching approach for elementary and secondary students.

“In this study we were interested in how teaching children and adolescents online during the pandemic affected their perceptions of mattering,” the researchers wrote. “Mattering should be of interest to educators given its link to school climate and because students who like they matter are ‘more protected and resilient and highly engaged, both inside and outside the classroom.’”

Because the concept of “mattering” arises from social processes and engagement, the study predicted that students’ perceptions would be impacted by not being taught face-to-face during the pandemic, and while no gender differences were found in the study, there was an age effect.

Elementary school students who learned in-person full-time reported mattering more than secondary students who learned in-person part-time (blended learning). Other studies show an association with mattering increasing with age, the study says.

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Researchers posit that the trend was due to the number of contact hours students had with their peers and school staff. High school students had no full-time in-person option available to them which meant they received fewer direct contact hours with peers and teachers than elementary students.

However, the study notes that in-person learning has not been the best solution for all students, with researchers citing a study that interviewed students who participated in remote learning during the 2020-2021 academic year at the same school board the current study was completed.

Students in that study reported that a “lack of bullying, peer pressure and social anxiety were a welcomed change that allowed them to better focus on learning.” Students in that study also said being around the comforts of home, not being stressed during the morning, extra sleep and increased time spent with family were appreciated.

Researchers say that data is important to note in light of the “strong body of evidence” that a poor school environment is associated with lower academic performance, poorer mental health and poorer peer relationships.

The study suggests that moving forward, it is important for schools to consider the impacts of COVID-19 mitigation strategies on the social and emotional experiences of students, and to focus on healthy relationships in COVID-19 education recovery to make sure students feel they matter.

It’s no secret that students struggled with distance learning last year, but it’s been difficult to quantify the actual impact on California students’ performance – until now.

CBS13 submitted public records requests for student failure rates to more than 50 local school districts and found, overall, for every 10 kids with a failing grade during the 2019/2020 school year, at least 18 failed amid the pandemic in 2020/2021.

Other states – and some California school districts – are using pandemic fail rate data to gauge and address learning loss from last year. However, according to the California Department of Education, California is not tracking pandemic fail rates or the impact of a new law that was intended to help struggling students.

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