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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability

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Covid-19 Learning from Home Student Survey Report Released

AHEAD is delighted to release 'Learning from Home During Covid-19: A Survey of Irish FET and HE Students with Disabilities' - a report gathering the findings of an AHEAD survey of learners with disabilities.

The Covid-19 crises has turned our world upside down. It is hard to believe that just 12 weeks prior to the release of this report, there were only rumblings on the airwaves about Covid-19 and not a single case had yet been identified on our shores.

In a short matter of weeks, the virus arrived and as the government reacted, everything changed. Our schools and colleges closed, our economy was placed in hibernation and our ability to be close to the ones we love was taken away.

Overnight, our further education and training (FET) centres and higher education (HE) institutions were pushed into remotely delivering the programmes that are so vital to the lives of our learners, without the chance to fully plan and prepare. Yet they showed remarkable commitment and innovation in moving quickly and nimbly to support learners through this difficult time to try to ensure they remained engaged with their learning in an equitable way.

For learners with disabilities however, many of whom are in the identified Covid-19 ‘at risk’ categories, there remain huge challenges in engaging in remote learning during this time and difficulties in how they access the support that is vital in their continuation and completion of programmes. Many have concerns for the health of themselves and their families, many are juggling childcare and other family demands with trying to adapt to a new form of learning, and some are struggling with limited or poor access to reliable technology and a reliable internet connection. Many are experiencing high levels of anxiety related to both the wider Covid-19 situation and the new mode of their programmes and some are experiencing challenges with the accessibility of materials provided.

This survey aims to shine a light on the reality for students with disabilities on the ground who are doing their best to continue learning ‘as normal’ in a situation that is far from it. The report hopes to authentically gather the experiences of learners with disabilities and bring their voice to the decision-making process about our response as a sector and a nation. It seeks to use the use the voice of learners to highlight key challenges and issues which we can collectively address together – government bodies, institutions, ETBs, teaching staff and independent bodies like AHEAD all have a role to play in responding effectively.

We hope that this research, alongside the many other valuable pieces of work being conducted by others in the sector, can contribute to informing the response of the sector and help to create better outcomes for learners with disabilities on the ground.

Get the Full Covid-19 Learning from Home Report>>

Key Statistics

601 students with disabilities responded to the survey with represented respondents from all categories of disability, living in 25 out of 26 Counties in the Republic of Ireland, and participating in both FET and HE programmes. The survey was carried out between April 9th and April 27th 2020 and the following key statistics were reported:

  • More than half of the respondents either disagreed (35%) or strongly disagreed (17%) with the statement ‘I am coping well with learning from home’. One quarter of respondents either agreed (22%) or strongly agreed (3%) with the statement, while 23% said they neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • Students with disabilities in FET programmes were significantly more likely to agree or strongly agree (37%) that they were coping well with learning from home than students in higher education undergraduate (18%) or postgraduate (20%) programmes.
  • Students who have the highest percentage of negative reaction (disagree or strongly disagree) to the statement ‘I am coping well with learning from home’ are those with a Mental Health Condition (67%), ADD/ADHD (62%) or a Specific Learning Difficulty (58%). 
  • 42% of responding students said they agreed (39%) or strongly agreed (7%) with the statement ‘My lecturers/teachers have considered accessibility in the online learning materials they are providing me with’ while 27% said they disagreed (20%) or strongly disagreed (7%) with the statement.
  • Just over one quarter of the respondents (26%) said that they used Assistive Technologies (AT). Of the students who said they did use AT, 72% said they had no difficulty accessing or using their AT in their learning from home, while 28% said they had experienced some issues in this regard. 
  • The five biggest challenges learning from home reported by the respondents were a ‘Lack of structure to my day and motivation to learn’ (64%),  ‘Distractions/other demands at home’ (52%), ‘Lack of clear communication from the college/centre of how I continue to engage in learning’ (26%), the ‘Reliability of my internet/internet shared with other members of household’ (24%) and ‘Disruption to the disability support provided to me by the college/centre’ (20%).
  • The five biggest challenges or concerns reported by the respondents about taking their upcoming assessments from home were ‘worries concerning new type of assessment’ (53%), ‘distractions/other demands at home’ (49%), a ‘lack of clarity around whether/how accommodations for exams/assessments will be provided’ (30%), the ‘reliability of my internet/internet shared with other members of household’ (29%) and a ‘lack of clarity about how we will be assessed’ (28%).
  • Of those who said they had access to a laptop, 24% said it was a shared laptop used also by other family members or housemates while 76% said it was solely for their own use. The percentage of students who are learning with a laptop/pc that is shared with another family member/housemate was notably higher in FET programmes (31%) than in HE undergrad (21%) or postgrad (13%) programmes.

Get the Full Covid-19 Learning from Home Report>>

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