Schools and training: lessons learned from Covid lockdown

A pupil from Ticino at his computer during the first virus wave lockdown Keystone / Samuel Golay

Teachers and pupils at schools and in vocational training faced a massive digital learning curve during the spring coronavirus lockdown in Switzerland, two studies have found. Some learners missed out.

This content was published on December 10, 2020 - 11:18

Although digital learning was not new in vocational schools, the abrupt move to online tools and teaching during the lockdown lead to “a huge extra effort didactically and time-wise”, a Swiss-wide surveyExternal link of these schools published on Thursday found.

Under Switzerland’s dual-track apprenticeship systemExternal link, young people combine on-the-job training with lessons in a vocational school during their apprenticeships. It is by far the most popular option after post-obligatory school, with two-thirds of school leavers (aged 15-16 plus) taking this route.

Apprentices, along with school pupils, faced school – and company – closures from mid-March as the country went into national lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. This meant a quick move into online learning. Whereas obligatory schools went back on May 11, many vocational schools continued remote lessons until the summer.

Currently, schools and vocational schools are open, although under strict measures, including masks for older pupils.

Challenges and  chance

Vocational teachers said that the lack of personal interaction and learning support for pupils was problematic during the first wave lockdown. “Teachers added that students learned less during online teaching,” the Swiss Federal Institute of Vocational Education and Training (SFIVETExternal link) report said. This was the view of 50-60% of respondents. In some cases, they felt pupils had learned significantly less.

However, many teachers surveyed for the study said they considered the lockdown experience a “chance”. “They would like to further develop and improve their teaching with digital tools, also for the time after the pandemic,” the report noted.

Schools: lack of online experience  

Meanwhile, an ongoing survey by the University of Zurich (UZH) of 299 school heads in German-speaking Switzerland found that a third reported no experience at all of digital learning before the lockdown. The pandemic gave schools a push: 80% began to use online platforms for teaching, communicating or learning materials – between pupils, parents and teachers - during this time.

“Stronger concepts for effective digital lessons should be developed, especially for primary schools, to ensure that that this digitalisation boost doesn’t fizzle out,” education professor Katharina Maag Merki said in a UZH statementExternal link on Wednesday.

Pupil support

Primary schools (nine out of ten) in particular found lockdown stressful; compared to three-quarters of secondary schools.

Schools said it was especially challenging to motivate and emotionally support their pupils, plus give support to children who were not able to learn well at home (this, as other surveys have pointed out, can be for various reasons: such as lack of parental support or a quiet place to learn).

This was particularly the case for primary schools with a high percentage of pupils in this situation. These schools need extra support, the study concluded.

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