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Kids Surviving Pandemic Classes: How Did it Affect Learning for Children?

Child in a pandemic class learning via Zoom

When the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation and the world, families, and children, in particular, were forced to adapt to online education and remote pandemic classes. For the average child, school has meant sitting in front of a computer screen for several hours, logging on to Zoom, and doing work and homework online. But what impact has this had on our children?

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey estimated that 93% of homes with school-age children had experience with socially distanced learning during the pandemic, with a vast majority of those households using some form of online learning. For most families, this shift online has been difficult, to say the least.

Lower-income families have suffered disproportionately because they have not had access to the two most important things needed for online learning: a computer and high-speed internet. A report from the National Education Association (NEA) estimated that 13.5 million children in the United States ages 5 to 17 do not have access or at least consistent access to these technologies.

Even children and families with access to technology have impacted education and child development during this period. For many people, the overall family environment has been seriously tested too. The advantages and disadvantages of staying home and engaging in online learning during the pandemic are becoming more apparent as we all attempt a return to normalcy.

One joint study from the NEA and National PTA on the impact of online education found that most students feel they got a good education despite feeling pressure from learning as well as emotional and health stressors.

Pros and Cons of Online Learning During the Pandemic

Some factors that could very well decide how a student does academically with online learning could include how a child learns, his or her environment, and how involved the parents are in the child’s education. Here are some of the most obvious pros and cons of pandemic classes and online learning during lockdowns.


In some cases, online instruction has come as a blessing. Here are some of the pros we’ve seen with online classes during the pandemic:

Flexible and self-paced education: Online instruction has given children more flexible schedules and the ability to go at their own pace. Some students have thrived on the flexibility that remote learning provides. Some have also benefited from working at their own pace, which is possible with online learning but not on campus.

Children get more sleep: There are advantages to not having to wake up early, get dressed, and rush out to school. One simple benefit of online education is that kids can get more sleep and rest, which can also improve learning outcomes in pandemic classes.

They develop independence: Some students have learned to work on their own developing skills, such as keeping track of their meetings and work schedules. These are important skills to have for the future.


Inequities with technology: Children who have struggled the most during the pandemic are those with no access or limited access to the internet. Some marginalized communities have even lacked computer access and have had to do their classes and homework on a parent’s cell phone. It is impossible to be successful with online learning without access to technology, leaving millions of students lagging academically.

Lack of a structured environment: Most students thrive and perform to their potential when placed in an environment that enforces structure and discipline. When students are forced to study at home, they may have a number of distractions. They may be tempted not to do homework or skip online classes, which could negatively impact their education.

Reduced engagement: There is little that can replace face-to-face instruction. Teachers have struggled to keep some students engaged and interested on Zoom. It is also hard for teachers to tell which students are uninterested or disengaged online. In-person, they may be able to decipher such disengagement right away.

A child learning at home during the pandemic

Negative Effects from Online Pandemic Classes Are Real

According to research, students K-12 fell behind by about five months in math and four months in reading during the 2020-2021 school year compared with students before the pandemic. Many students lost the equivalent of six months or more of learning, with students in low-income and majority-Black schools being hit the hardest. This learning lag puts many students at risk of dropping out of high school, not to mention their chances of attending college. This could have long-term effects on their earning potential and career options.

Behavioral Issues

Parents of young children have reported severe behavioral issues. Child psychology experts have said ongoing school disruptions increase bad behavior in children. Experts have also said that children are more likely to act out or become anxious, sad, or even depressed during distance learning. The ongoing stress and the uncertainties involved make it more difficult for kids to focus on their studies, causing learning loss and straining family ties.

During the pandemic, some parents worried about whether in-person learning was safe for their children and families. Others have lamented the fallout of yet another unstable school year. Many news reports detail parents’ accounts of their children’s behavior changes because of distance learning.

Some parents said their children stopped enjoying school and learning, which they loved before the pandemic. This was particularly true of social children who struggled to deal with isolation during the pandemic. Parents reported children resorting to tantrums and outbursts because they could not cope. One recent study by Harvard University of about 400 families said children’s behavior worsened during Zoom school. Researchers said children’s behavioral health was worse when they were in remote learning compared to in-person or hybrid learning.

College in Jeopardy

Older students also felt deflated as a result of pandemic-related interruptions. High school seniors missed their sports, prom, and graduation-related events, including graduation ceremonies. Many could not take their SATs or felt overwhelmed by a full slate of AP classes.

Students even put off going to college because they were fed up with online learning and could not stomach the idea of not having a “college life.” According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment dropped 3.1% from the fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021. In California, standardized test scores fell significantly last year.

Mental Health Crisis

A youth mental health crisis has also affected students nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of high school students reported poor mental health, and 44% said they felt “sad or hopeless” during the pandemic. A recent surgeon general’s advisory on young people’s mental health has found higher rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other social and emotional issues among children since the pandemic.

Youth mental health was a concern even before the pandemic. COVID-19 added more stress, fear, and worry for many families. Making the transition from home back to school may be more difficult, particularly for children with developmental, behavioral, or emotional concerns, not children who have fallen behind academically.

There is Hope for Children to Thrive

Teachers and parents can help children by planning the transitions, making strong connections, and establishing new routines. With the right kind of support and nurturing, children can adapt to their new program and go back to enjoying life with their friends and rediscovering their love of learning.

Here are some ways in which educators can help children cope with this transition post-pandemic:

Re-engaging students: Data shows that the pandemic has affected learning unevenly. As many as 3 million students have become disengaged from school due to pandemic classes, particularly in communities of color. This makes it all the more important for school districts to make significant efforts to identify disconnected students, reconnect them to their school communities and provide them with the necessary support to catch up academically.

Increased instruction: The disruption in instruction and the reduction in structured learning time was a huge problem that prevented many students. School districts should consider increasing instructional time and opportunities for learning through extra tutoring and mentoring. One-on-one instruction, especially for students who need help, could be transformational.

Close technological gaps: Many children were left without access to high-speed Internet and computers during the pandemic. States and school districts should take this time to support the technological needs of students and grant them access to high-speed Internet, devices, and digital literacy.

Prioritizing health: Students and families need support addressing basic needs and coping with the anxieties stemming from these disruptions to their lives. We know it is challenging for students to reach their academic potential without emotional, social, and mental health support. Mental health services must be made available in schools.

There is no question that the pandemic has dramatically impacted learning for all children, particularly those who could not afford to fall behind. The impact of COVID-19 will last for a long time to come. It is important that states and school districts re-focus their efforts as the new school year begins to help children regroup and start afresh.

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