Completed

Updated: September 11, 2020

What are the health and social consequences, for children and families, of the creation of learning pods outside of the public education system?

Summary

The following is a summary of evidence sources that provide related information about the potential health and social consequences for children and families of creating learning pods outside the public education system. This includes information from the related literature on homeschooling. An absence of high-quality evidence that fully relates to COVID-19 learning pods exists to address this question and is a limitation to this review.  For additional information about each of the sources, see the Table below.

A learning pod refers to a small group of students, who may be in different grades, with a parent or a hired private teacher grouping together to learn and socialize. The Plans of US Parents Regarding School Attendance for Their Children in the Fall of 2020 study conducted a survey finding that nearly one-third of families in the United States were probably or definitely planning to keep their child(ren) home from school in Fall 2020 [8]. The families planning to keep their children at home were more likely to have greater job flexibility, were unemployed, had households with vulnerable members and/or were more likely to have children in grades three through five compared to children in high school [8]. There is a literature review and a commentary on the risks that online learning can lead to disconnection from social supports during the current pandemic, which can adversely affect children and teenagers [4,6]. As emotional development in teenagers propels them to move away from parents and towards friends, teenagers are more likely to be adversely affected by studying at home [4]The Rise of Adverse Childhood Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic commentary suggests that younger children may face an increased risk for adverse childhood experiences due to social isolation from their friends [6]
 
Two literature reviews and a commentary predict that the high cost of creating a pod will disproportionately affect lower-income families, communities of colour and women due to systemic inequities and barriers [2,3,7]. The authors of a review on Meeting the School-Age Child Care Needs of Working Parents Facing COVID-19 Distance Learning note that these communities are less likely to form pods due to gaps in child care supply, fewer resources, greater likelihood of employment that does not allow parents to work from home, and high-speed internet needed to support distance learning [2]. A literature review on COVID-19 and student learning in the United States describes barriers that can exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15 to 20 percent and that may result in learning losses that are likely to increase dropout rates among students [3]
 
Two individual studies and one jurisdictional scan noted that with regards to homeschooling in general, the understanding, definition, and regulation of homeschooling varies widely, leading to uncertainty within the literature about its effectiveness in preparing educated citizens [5,8,9]. For example, the authors of the study Homeschooled adolescents in the United Stated: developmental outcomes found that teenagers who were homeschooled were 3 times more likely to be behind their expected grade level and two and a half times more likely to report no extracurricular activities in the prior year compared to traditionally schooled counterparts [9]. However, a systematic review of Contemporary Homeschool Models and the Values and Beliefs of Home Educator Associations stated homeschooled students had consistently higher social skill scores than traditionally schooled counterparts, and that homeschooled students are typically more empathetic, self-controlled, cooperative, and assertive [1]. The review also found that on average, homeschool students scored above the 80th percentile in various standardized tests, but students’ achievement was dependant on their parents’ education level, the number of years studying at a homeschool, homeschool regulation policies, time devoted to formal instruction, race/ ethnicity, and family income [1]. The authors of a literature review on  Education, the science of learning, and the COVID-19 crisis recommended the following strategies to successfully homeschool children: 1) remember learning can be slow and difficult; 2) make learning meaningful to the child and ask them what they want to learn about; 3) promote autonomy by giving children choice and flexibility by encouraging them to make their timetables; 4) give frequent and positive verbal feedback; and 5) promote physical exercise, a good diet and sufficient sleep [4]. Furthermore, a single study recommended that schools or school districts should communicate the level of home learning support they will be providing, if any, along with competencies and requirements for appropriate homeschooling [8]

Evidence

What‘s Trending on Social Media and Media

A podcast called StartEdUp interviewed the CEO of Swing Education, Mike Teng, who has now launched Swing Bubbles, which is matching educators with parents and schools that want to create learning pods during COVID-19. 
 
This CTV News article describes the rise of micro classes or pod learning, where 5-6 students will be paired up with a certified teacher who will teach them a curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education. The students within the micro class will range from kindergarten to Grade 8.  
 
This resource provides a DIY checklist to setting up an in-home learning pod. The goal of this checklist is to help families create their learning pod. The checklist touches on addressing the child’s needs and curriculum, creating a learning environment, health and safety, and finding an ideal teacher. 
 
A Facebook group called “Learning Pods – Canada” has been created for teachers and parents to network in order to ensure equal opportunity and access to learning pods among all families. Their aim is to make sure that people can form learning pods on affordably or for free. Currently this Facebook group has 11,100 members.  

Organizational Scan

The Government of Ontario has created a list of resources to help families and caregivers who have decided to keep their children home in Fall 2020. The resource includes tips and activities for engaging students, external online learning platforms and mental health support. [10]

Review of Evidence

Resource Type/Source of Evidence Last Updated
Contemporary Homeschool Models and the Values and Beliefs of Home Educator Associations: A Systematic Review
— Tilhou
Systematic Review

This review states that homeschool participants had consistently higher social skill scores than public school children, specifically finding homeschool children as more empathetic, self-controlled, cooperative, and assertive. On average, homeschool students performed well in areas tested. The relationship between homeschool students’ achievement was dependent on parents’ education level, number of years homeschooled, homeschool regulation policies by state, time devoted to formal instruction, race/ethnicity, and, family income. 

Last Updated: May 19, 2019
Meeting the School-Age Child Care Needs of Working Parents Facing COVID-19 Distance Learning
— Adams & Todd
Policy Review

This working paper notes that parents are shifting to smaller care arrangements with fewer children in a home-based setting, where small pods of children are formed to be cared for and supported in their distance learning. The cost of these approaches are beyond the ability of many families to afford. These costs will disproportionately affect lower income families, communities of color and women due to systemic inequities and barriers. These communities are less likely to be able to form pods for their children due to gaps in child care supply, fewer resources, greater likelihood of employment that does not allow parents to work from home, higher risk of COVID-19 infection due to higher rates of underlying health conditions and less access to devices and high-speed internet needed to support distance learning. Given the state of the pandemic and the potential for a second wave which may result in the closures of schools, an increase in learning pods is to be expected in the future.  

Last Updated: June 30, 2020
COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime
— Dorn et al.
Literature Review

The modelling study described that learning loss will probably be greatest among low-income, black, and Hispanic students. It is estimated that a divide in learning access may exacerbate existing achievements gaps by 15 to 20 percent. Learning losses are likely to increase dropout rates among students.  

Last Updated: May 31, 2020
Education, the science of learning, and the COVID-19 crisis
— Thomas & Rogers
Commentary

This viewpoint suggests that teenagers, whose emotional development propels them to move away from parents and carers and towards friends are more likely to be adversely affected by studying at home.    For those who are homeschooling their children, the following strategies are recommended: 1) to remember that learning can be slow and difficult; 2) make learning meaningful to the child and ask them what they want to learn about; 3) promote autonomy by giving children choice and flexibility by encouraging them to make their own timetables; 4) give frequent and positive verbal feedback; and 5) promote physical exercise, a good diet and sufficient sleep.  

Last Updated: May 24, 2020
Context and regulation of homeschooling: Issues, evidence, and assessment practices
— Carlson
Jurisdictional Scan

This article notes that the understanding, definition, and regulation of homeschooling vary widely, which has led to little certainty about many aspects of homeschooling, including its effectiveness in preparing educated citizens.  

Last Updated: December 31, 2019
The Rise of Adverse Childhood Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic
— Bryant & Damian
Commentary

The commentary found that children can be disconnected from social supports during the current pandemic, such as teachers, friends and grandparents, causing a heightened risk for adverse childhood experiences during social isolation.

Last Updated: March 31, 2020
Impact of Sars-Cov-2 and Its Reverberation in Global Higher Education and Mental Health
— Araujo et al.
Commentary

This commentary notes that with the closure of educational institutions, online learning may present social inequalities and affect underprivileged students in ways not yet known.  

Last Updated: May 31, 2020
Plans of US Parents Regarding School Attendance for Their Children in the Fall of 2020
— Kroshus et al.
Individual Study

This study found that nearly one-third of families in a national US survey were probably or definitely planning to keep their children home from school in the Fall 2020. The survey revealed that families with greater job flexibility, those who were unemployed or in households with vulnerable people were more likely to plan to keep their children home upon return to school in Fall 2020. Parents with children in grade 3 through 5 were more likely to plan to keep their children home than parents of high schoolers.     The study states that if well implemented, homeschooling can meet a child’s learning and social-emotional needs. In making the decision to keep their child home from school, a parent may be assuming that their child’s school will provide instructional materials, which may not be the case. It is important that parents understand the key components of high-quality, developmentally appropriate home-schooling practices. Schools or school districts should communicate the level of home learning support they will be providing, if any, along with competencies and requirements for appropriate homeschooling.  

Last Updated: August 13, 2020
Homeschooled adolescents in the United Stated: developmental outcomes
— Green-Hennessy
Individual Study

This study found that homeschoolers with weaker religious ties were three times more likely to report being behind their expected grade level and two and a half times more likely to report no extracurricular activities in the prior year than traditionally schooled counterparts.    

Last Updated: April 2, 2014
Learn at Home
— Government of Ontario
Organizational Scan Last Updated: August 18, 2020
Disclaimer: The summaries provided are distillations of reviews that have synthesized many individual studies. As such, summarized information may not always be applicable to every context. Each piece of evidence is hyperlinked to the original source.

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