Student engagement during lockdown took hardest hit in DEIS schools, finds Trinity study

Teachers suggest lack of resources and support at home as responsible for reduced engagement

A survey of secondary school teachers in Ireland about the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning carried out by a team of Trinity researchers found that lack of student interest, lack of home supports, and limited access to devices were key challenges to teaching while schools were closed, particularly in DEIS schools.

The research was carried out by Trinity’s School of Education in collaboration with Trinity Access, and 723 teachers from over 200 schools nationwide responded to the survey. 

In the rapid move to online-based teaching and virtual “classrooms”, schools had to adapt to keep pupils engaged and to provide continuity of education. 

School closures during lockdown added to further educational inequality. Students with a lack of resources and from disadvantaged backgrounds were hit hardest when it came to education. 

21% of teachers reported levels of less than 30% engagement amongst their students. Factors that teachers in the survey cited as reducing student engagement included student’s lack of learning resources, such as smartphones and laptops, reduced motivation, and lack of support at home. 

Of teachers surveyed, DEIS school teachers were three times more likely to report low engagement, less than 30% of students engaging, in their classes. 

Teachers surveyed were particularly concerned about students with disabilities and additional needs. Schools without a dedicated whole-school strategy to online learning and without a specific school IT infrastructure also reported lower levels of engagement. 

One teacher surveyed commented: “I feel the lack of personal connection with students places a barrier in the way of motivation, engagement, collaboration, and all else in teaching. Technology has helped me to organise lessons and information but places a large obstacle for teaching and learning especially for disadvantaged students” 

Teachers reported reduced levels of student collaboration, with more than half of those surveyed reporting lack of collaboration and group work in their online teaching. 

In terms of work environment of the teaching staff, teachers reported higher levels of stress and reported receiving support from other teachers on social media and fellow staff members. Many teachers cited increased creativity in their teaching methods helping them to cope with their pandemic teaching. 

Teachers also expressed dissatisfaction with supports provided by the Department of Education and Skills, over one third describing the department’s efforts as “terrible” or “poor”. 

Dr. Ann Devitt is the Director of Research at the School of Education. On the findings of the research she said: “Our findings show that there is a need for teachers to foster relationships with students when they return to the classroom. But there is also a need for teachers to be ready in case such a shutdown happens again and we believe CPD [continuing professional development] is needed for teachers on how to provide collaborative learning online.”

Lucy Fitzsimmons

Lucy Fitzsimmons is the SciTech co-Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of Chemical Sciences.