Learning through COVID-19: Maximising educational outcomes for Australia's children and young people experiencing disadvantage

Learning through COVID-19

On 18 March 2020, the Prime Minister declared a ‘human biosecurity emergency’ given the risks COVID-19 posed to human health, which allowed the Health Minister to issue targeted, legally enforceable directions and requirements to combat the virus. In response, Education Departments implemented ‘remote schooling’ for the majority of students for parts of Terms 1 and 2, allowing attendance for children of essential workers and those designated vulnerable. In Victoria this has continued into Term 3. While this change in school delivery resulted in a disruption for all school children, based on limited evidence from past shock events, children experiencing disadvantage are likely to have suffered disproportionately and been most affected by social and educational disruptions resulting from changed school provisions. The impact of COVID-19 has not only disrupted schooling, but has also significantly affected families’ health and socio-economic circumstances. Children and young people already experiencing disadvantaged circumstances will potentially be more at risk of poorer educational outcomes as a result of COVID-19.

The Institute for Social Science (ISSR) at the University of Queensland is undertaking a study, funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation, to explore the impact on learning through COVID-19. The study is structured around three interrelated stages of work (Pillars 1 - 3) that are designed to understand the experience and needs of children and young people already at risk for poorer wellbeing, educational outcomes and future employment prospects and provide an evidence-based platform to respond to these students needs’ in the recovery from COVID-19.

Download the Project Info Sheet


Tyrone Ridgway | Deputy Director (Strategy & Operations)



The Project

Based on previous studies on education outcomes, three cohorts of students have been identified as likely to be most affected by the educational disruption of COVID-19:

  • Young children who started school already behind.
  • Older students who were already at risk of disengagement, who may not return to school but whose employment prospects have become very much bleaker.
  • Children and young people who have had contact with the child protection system.

COVID-19 is not a single static event, and there are many potential stages of impact – some that have already occurred, some that are emerging, and others that we need to anticipate. Combining evidence from the literature, policy and practice reviews, and listening to key stakeholders and children, young people, and their families, this project will:

  • Capture the experience, practice, and learnings from across the sector (from government to individuals) with respect to learning through COVID-19.
  • Identify the geographic distribution, intensity and diversity of the needs of children and young people in the three cohorts.
  • Identify what currently works and what other evidence-based actions (policy, practice and programs) are needed to enable schools, government, and service providers to continue to understand, respond, adapt, and support the learning needs of children and young people.

The project will engage and consult with Government representatives, the education sector and key peak bodies, providers of support services to disadvantaged families and children and young people and philanthropy stakeholders with an interest in improving educational outcomes and reducing disadvantage. The project will also seek to inform the general public about this problem and the solutions to make meaningful change.

The lessons learned and solutions identified in this study are anticipated to have wider reach beyond the three cohorts and the impact of COVID-19, which will continue to maximise educational outcomes for Australia’s children and young people and ensure that Australia’s next generation continue to thrive.