Only 19 percent of UK students were able to switch to remote learning without friction, according to new research.

Schools at digital crossroads as children return to classrooms across the UK

As schools face further COVID-19 related disruptions to physical learning, the study by Citrix has shed light on the state of remote learning for UK school and university students during the pandemic, with good and bad findings.

The survey, which examined the views of 500 parents of school age students, found that only 19 percent of UK school students were able to switch to online lessons in a completely frictionless way. At the same time however, most parents (69%) think their child’s school was at least somewhat prepared for remote learning.

Adaptation and improvisation crucial to success

At the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, when schools had to switch to remote teaching quickly, the survey found that adaptation and improvisation were the keys to success. Over a third (36%) of UK parents reported no technical issues with access to applications provided by the school from the outset, while a further 43 percent reported some challenges during the early stages. However, 13 percent reported persistent technical problems with access to the applications provided for online learning. Additionally, 26 percent of parents had to acquire additional devices for their children ad-hoc to ensure they could do the online classes, while a further 23 percent confirmed their child was joining classes on the family PC – blocking it for use by their siblings or parents during that time.

By international comparison, the UK’s transition to online teaching was somewhat more difficult than in other countries. The best prepared nation was Singapore, where 30 percent of the parents report a frictionless transition to online lessons, followed by Australia (25 percent). This was followed by Mexico, which ranked equally with the UK on 19 percent. The best overall technical equipment and applications also seem to be present in Singapore, with only six percent of parents reporting that their children had persistent technical problems accessing remote classes.

"One thing is evident: the COVID-19 crisis has forced the education system to undergo an involuntary stress test. It is a concern that in an industrialised nation such as the UK, only 19 percent of UK school students were able to experience problem-free remote learning during the pandemic due to a lack of technical equipment and know-how within schools,” Matt Smith, Director, Public Sector UK & Ireland at Citrix said.

“Faced with the threat of a second wave, we cannot and must not allow this to happen again. To be better prepared in the future, the education sector must establish unified online environments that can be activated on demand and at short notice, while being secure and easy to use for students, teachers and parents,” he added.

Tech a key factor for online class success

The survey also found that parents view technology as a critical factor for online class success, with 81 percent of those surveyed reporting that the right technology can help achieve a good educational experience. At the same time, 40 percent are convinced that remote teaching can only be successful with the right tools and good instructions. Additionally, the survey found that the constant engagement with technology in class has tangible, positive consequences: 64 percent of parents surveyed state that their children's computer skills have improved since moving to online classes.

Beyond technological aspects, the sudden switch to online teaching has also put a spotlight on obvious potential for improvement. When asked what could improve the experience of remote learning for them and their child, better organisation and instructions for remote teaching (44%) as well as more direct interaction with teachers via video (43%) were at the very top of school children's parents' wish list. Three in ten (30%) also believe improving teachers' remote teaching skills would make a big difference. In spite of all the difficulties, there are also positive findings to report: only 19 percent of UK parents think that online classes are not a good method of educating their child, and do not wish to continue with them.

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