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Children with special needs have experienced less favorable learning conditions during lockdown

Inclusively taught students with special education needs have experienced less favorable learning conditions during the spring 2020 school closures than their peers without such needs. At the same time, however, children perceived the school closure period very differently, regardless of their special education needs. This is according to an analysis of a survey of nearly 2,000 children in grades 7 and 8. The survey was conducted as part of the school-based inclusion study INSIDE, which is based at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Progress (LIfBi) and elsewhere.

The home learning conditions during the first school graduation were characterized by very different conditions for the students. There is now consensus that existing disadvantages have been further exacerbated by school closures. One group is particularly affected by this, but has been largely left out: there is little empirical evidence on the situation of students with special educational needs. The INSIDE project (Inclusion in and after Secondary Education) aims to close this gap. In a current evaluation, researchers Dr. Cornelia Gresch from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Dr. Monja Schmitt from LIfBi in Bamberg are investigating the differences in learning and well-being between students with and without special educational needs during the school closures in spring 2020. The data for this is provided by self-assessments of 1,939 children who were interviewed as part of the regular surveys of the long-term INSIDE study in the fall of 2020. Thirteen percent of these children had special education needs.

Face-to-face instruction enables participation

Children with special educational needs often have rather unfavorable learning conditions at home. For them, the lack of classroom instruction is particularly consequential because it makes it difficult for them to participate in educational opportunities.  In addition, learning at home is very different from the individualized instructional formats this group is accustomed to: they need more motivation, more guidance and attention from the teacher, and, most importantly, a sense of learning in a community - factors that are largely absent from learning at home in Spring 2020.

Children with special needs learn less

As is also evident from other surveys of home learning during the school years (see NEPS Corona & Education No. 1), the amount of time students spend learning at school varies widely. This picture is also evident in the INSIDE survey. There are both children who reported spending significantly less time in school during this time, and those who reported spending much more time than during normal school hours. Comparing the special needs and non-special needs groups, there are statistically significant differences. Eighteen percent of students with special needs reported working significantly less. Of their classmates without special needs, only 11% made this statement. This difference becomes even more pronounced when asked to what extent they worked on school-assigned tasks. Here, 17 percent of the children with special needs indicated "none" or "little" (compared to 8 percent in the group without special needs). In terms of the work environment, it is noteworthy that children with special needs were less likely to have access to printers, but more likely to report that they had people who paid attention to the completion of assignments.

School closure also affects their well-being

The researchers also asked the children how they had fared overall during the initial school closure. The responses paint a heterogeneous picture. Strikingly, children with special needs were significantly more likely to report extreme feelings ("not at all well" or "very well").

Overall, researchers Gresch and Schmitt see children with special education needs as disadvantaged in learning at home. "In addition to existing challenges, they sometimes had less favorable learning conditions and also spent less time learning. We see this as confirming the findings of other studies that inequality is exacerbated by a lack of frontal instruction," said Cornelia Gresch.

The full report can be found in the Transfer Reports section.

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