More than two years after the Covid-19 outbreak forced school officials to shift classes and assignments online, teens continue to navigate the pandemic’s impact on their education and relationships, even while they experience glimpses of normalcy as they return to the classroom.
Against this background, a new Pew Research Center report examines teens’ experiences with virtual learning and the digital divide – as well as both teens’ and parents’ perceptions of disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The new report, based on a survey of 1 316 pairs of US teens and their parents finds that eight-in-10 US teens ages 13 to 17 said they attended school completely in person over the past month when surveyed. Fewer teens said they attended school completely online (8%) or did so through a mix of both online and in-person instruction (11%).
When it comes to the type of learning environment youths prefer, teens strongly favour in-person over remote or hybrid learning. Fully 65% of teens say they would prefer school to be completely in person after the Covid-19 outbreak is over, while a much smaller share (9%) would opt for a completely online environment. Another 18% say they prefer a mix of both online and in-person instruction, while 7% are not sure of their preferred type of schooling after the pandemic.
There are some differences that emerge by race and ethnicity and household income on these issues. While 70% of White teens and 64% of Hispanic teens say they would prefer for school to be completely in person after the Covid-19 outbreak is over, that share drops to 51% among Black teens. Meanwhile, 71% of teens living in higher-income households earning $75 000 or more a year report they prefer for school to be completely in person after the pandemic is over. That share drops to six-in-10 or less among those whose annual family income is less than $75 000.
The level of concern about falling behind in school varies by household income and by race and ethnicity for both teens and their parents. Roughly three-in-10 Hispanic teens (28%) say they are extremely or very worried they may have fallen behind in school because of disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, compared with 19% of Black teens and 11% of White teens. This pattern is present among parents as well. Teens and parents from lower-income households are also more likely to express concern about the pandemic’s negative impact on schooling. For example, 44% of parents living in households earning less than $30 000 a year say they are extremely or very worried their teen has fallen behind in school because of Covid-19 disruptions, but this share falls to 24% among those whose annual household income is $75 000 or more.
Other key findings include:
• Some teens face a “homework gap” – tech challenges related to getting their homework done. Fully 22% of teens say they often or sometimes have to do their homework on a cellphone. Meanwhile, 12% say they at least sometimes are not able to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection, while 6% say they have to use public Wi-Fi to do their homework at least sometimes because they do not have an internet connection at home. About three-in-ten (28%) have faced at least one of these homework gap challenges often or sometimes.
• Teens living in lower-income households are particularly likely to face challenges related to the homework gap. Some 43% of teens living in a household with an annual income of less than $30 000 report at least sometimes facing one or more of the three challenges to completing homework the survey covered – about twice the share of teens from households making $75 000 or more annually (23%) and 13 percentage points higher than the share of teens in a household making $30 000 to $74 999 annually.
• Teens hold mixed views of how their schools tackled remote learning. Some 28% of teens say they are extremely or very satisfied with the way their school has handled virtual learning, while a similar share report being only a little or not at all satisfied with their school’s performance (30%). Some teens fall in the middle of the spectrum, with 33% saying they are somewhat satisfied with this.
• A fifth of parents of these same teens are not satisfied with the way remote schooling has been handled. The survey finds that parents, too, hold divided views on remote learning, though they offer a somewhat more positive assessment than their children. About four-in-10 parents of teens (39%) say they are extremely or very satisfied with the way their child’s school has handled virtual learning; 33% say they are somewhat satisfied about this, while 20% report being only a little or not at all satisfied by this.
• More than four-in-ten teens (45%) report feeling closer to their parents or guardians since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, some teens express feeling less connected to certain groups. Roughly one-third say they feel less close to classmates (33%) or teachers (30%), while 24% each feel this way about their friends or extended family. Roughly half or more teens say they are about as close to their friends, parents or guardians, classmates, extended family or teachers as they were before the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak.