Online Learning Makes Achievement Gap Worse

Online Learning Makes Achievement Gap Worse

The closure of schools and switch to online learning in lockdown has made the achievement gap between schoolkids worse, a study finds.

The study was conducted by a team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Yonsei University.

They found that Korean high school students attended in-person classes for an average of just 104 days in 2020, 86 days fewer than before the pandemic. Schools differed in terms of the number of days they provided in-person classes, ranging from 50 to 150.

According to the study, the fewer in-person classes schools provided, the higher number of students in the high and low achiever groups and the smaller the ordinary middle.


Every time the number of in-person classes decreased by 30 days, the proportion of students in the bottom group increased by 1.2 percentage points in Korean, 2.1 percentage points in English, and by 2.4 percentage points in math.

Those in the top group also increased by 0.9 percentage points in Korean, 1.5 percentage points in English, and 1.2 percentage points in math.

Midlevel achievers dwindled apace, by 2.1 percentage points in Korean, 3.6 percentage points in English, and 3.9 percentage points in math.

The team speculated that top students perform better because they can study at their own pace at home, but those in the bottom group just sit on their hands. It is also likely that the parents of high achievers push them at home and increase private tuition while kids from poorer families are left behind.

“Children of cash-strapped families were particularly vulnerable amid restrictions on classes,” the team said. “Improving education inequality caused by the pandemic should be a major goal in the future.” 

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