Home schooling in Denmark: students missed the school community

Research into home schooling experiences in Denmark during corona crisis shows that students missed classroom teaching and everyday school life.

mother home schooling a child

Many parents have been under pressure trying to manage working from home with child care and home schooling. Photo: Illustration photo, Colourbox.

The main findings of the survey show that students in Denmark:

92% missed friends and free time activities

70% missed teaching

60% missed teachers

Quint researcher Ane Qvortrup from University of Southern Denmark has together with colleagues from Aarhus University analysed survey results on the experiences of students and parents during the Covid-19 home schooling in Denmark. The analysis is based on responses from 5953 students in primary education and 4953 parents.

New criteria in times of crisis

To ask what good quality teaching is, in a crisis situation that has forced all teaching online, we can no longer refer to what we know about quality teaching from literature. Teachers have had to transform all their teaching suddenly to digital teaching, and they have not always been able to do their best in this situation. They would have needed a lot more time to turn their material into good digital teaching. The researchers were surprised to see how much of it was very good, though it was also clear that there have been some second best solutions made quickly out of necessity. 

– In this situation the most important quality criteria that applies is making sure we don't lose the students' engagement with the learning material, Qvortrup emphasises. 

– We see from the survey that whilst students reported self-efficacy high, their experiences of coping strategies were rated much lower. We asked them, do you cope well with this kind of teaching and their responses gave low scores. This is a problem.

– If some of the students feel they are not coping well with this kind of teaching situation, we risk them one day not joining the online teaching at all. This may also have consequences to their understanding of themselves and self-efficacy, as well as how they feel about going to school in general, Qvortrup explains. 

According to the analysis there are correlations between the students’ coping strategies and other issues in the study. If the students know what the teachers want them to do, it affects their coping capacity. Teachers can help this by telling the students what they want the them to do, as well as being ready to help. If there are assignments that the students don’t understand, as long as they feel that it is easy to get help from the teacher, it affects their coping strategies in a positive way. 

Students miss classroom teaching

A lot of the students in the survey said they miss teaching. Of course, they miss their friends and the social aspects of school, but they also specified missing their teachers and the classroom teaching. Qvortrup was surprised by this finding; we often think that kids don't want to do anything at school, and now they report that they actually miss school.

It seems that the home schooling experience has reminded students of the value of this kind of teaching. Qvortrup wonders if this means that once they go back to school, they will value this kind of being together, and feel that they are learning. 

Older students nervous about reaching goals

Overall there have been some negative experiences. On one hand the students are bored. The survey asked if they are happy about their daily life during the school closures and they said no. They were also asked how well they think the teachers are managing the situation, and they reported that the teachers were doing a good job. There is almost a sense of shared responsibility; the students understand that this is not a good situation, but they recognise that the teachers are doing their best and feel that together we can manage this.

Qvortrup is not sure this will last however. It’s almost like this has been a project but now the students are tired and want to go back to school. Some say they are not sure they are learning what they are supposed to learn. They are getting nervous about reaching their goals. This is especially the case for older kids who have to end their education this summer or in a few years. It is a major problem if students are nervous about leaving school and not feeling prepared. 

Learning community has changed

What we know from the literature is that the feeling of not being able to cope with a situation will affect the students’ self-efficacy. And we have seen from the results that coping strategies were reported low.

– I worry how this will impact on the self-efficacy of the kids that feel they are not coping well with online teaching. This may have consequences to their self-esteem and self-understanding in the long term, Qvortrup warns. 

– The learning community has changed a lot. What we know from previous international literature on teaching in similar situations, this often means that the students will change their roles. Some students are more used to communicating online already, while others feel increased pressure to do so. A lot of the teaching revolves around written assignments and feedback for example. Students who are confident with oral presentations may not be so good at writing.

– There are a lot of dynamics where students have changed roles and the way they are together. This can be problematic; they have built a classroom community together over a number of years and now it has all been changed.

– Their roles have changed due to this new way of being together. We don’t quite know the long-term consequences of that, Qvortrup says. 

At least for some children, the aspect of mirroring yourself in relation to others when engaging in a school community gives them a sense that they can do something. This may be especially important to those who don’t have much self-esteem. Mirroring oneself in relation to other children and receiving feedback from the teacher is helpful. They are trying themselves out against each other. It is hard to sit home and not be able to do this mirroring. Just producing written text and then giving it to the teacher knowing it is not as good as it could be, is not a positive experience. 

Teachers have managed well

What surprised Qvorturp was how well teachers managed to use a lot of different ways of teaching in this new situation. 

– A lot of teaching in schools did not use technology in this way before. They used it for writing and taking notes, and for submitting assignments. But not for dealing as a community and talking together.

– We have a lot of teachers who are not used to teaching in this way, and yet looking at the data, they have managed to use different ways of teaching in order to engage the kids.

Both the kids and parents say they think the teachers did a good job, and that they did it with high level of engagement. 

– It is surprising that we have managed as a society to deal with this situation so well, and have succeeded together. Especially since many parents have been under immense pressure trying to manage combining working from home with child care and home schooling. 

Screen-based instruction leaves a lot out

With so much instruction relying on individual tasks and screen based learning, it is clear that other aspects of teaching are missing. There are some kids who say they do not meet as a group in online teaching at all. Not being able to engage in a community is a big problem.

– Furthermore, one of the things we value as quality teaching in Danish school culture, is being part of a community, engaging in dialogue, and engaging in a democracy, and that is missing now.

– It is also a criteria for learning that you engage in dialogue with others. It is part of our thinking about what a society is - it is about being together, engaging with others and helping each other. The students have missed this. 

This is not as big of a problem for older students; they use chats and social media to connect with each other. However, for younger students who are still learning how to engage in a learning community with others this has now been disrupted. A lot of the discussion in Denmark has been about what to do to the get children back to their friendships and community. 

The survey also revealed that some 10 % of children are not getting help. This is especially a problem for children from the lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and could even make these social differences even bigger. Another barriers is that not everyone has the same access to technology, phones and computers, to even be able to participate in the digital teaching. 

Current situation and looking forward

The survey has shed light on the recent home schooling experiences. What the longer term effects of this will be, only time will tell. For now, in Denmark, the smallest children are back at school. However things are not back to normal; children have to keep distance from each other and aren’t allowed to work together. 

– It is a very different way of going to school and what I know from participating in a school board is that kids don’t like going to school like this, Qvortrup remarks. 

Older students are not back at school and it is unclear when they will return, or whether they will return full time. Since this situation may be extended, we need to create more variety in online teaching. Some students only get a text to read and questions to answer, and then get feedback on that. That’s boring in the long term. The biggest issue arising from the survey has to do with the students’ self-efficacy and coping strategies.

– We have to be more aware of what we can do to help students and keep them on track with their learning, Qvortrup concludes. 

By Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Published May 8, 2020 3:18 PM - Last modified May 12, 2020 7:31 PM