Why do students lose concentration during their studies?

It has long been clear that the corona crisis will leave a gap in the educational biographies of schoolchildren. The only question is how big it is. But answers are not easy to come by. Certificates and exams, the usual forms of school performance assessment, were also available at the end of the previous school year. However, due to the special circumstances, they are only suitable to a limited extent for measuring the gap. This is proven, for example, by the above-average high school graduation marks.

The Munich Ifo Institute is now presenting a study that promises a more realistic picture. Because the economic researchers around the education economist Ludger Wößmann do not look at which grades jump out at the end of the Corona half-year 2019/2020. They are interested in how much learning time has been lost by the students. They asked parents about this, more than 1,000 nationwide. The result: the average time that schoolchildren spent daily with worksheets, video lessons or homework has been more than halved during the Corona crisis - from 7.4 to 3.6 hours.

38 percent of the children even spent less than two hours on school activities, 14 percent spent a maximum of one hour. Only 13 percent of parents saw no decline. "The failure to attend school," says the study, "could only be compensated to a small extent by increased learning activities at home." Especially since other activities classified as "development-promoting" such as reading, making music or sports only increased slightly during the Corona period, from 2.9 to 3.3 hours.

In contrast, children spent significantly more time in front of the computer, television or cell phone than before the pandemic, doing activities that the researchers rate as "passive". The time for these activities took an average of 5.2 instead of the previous four hours a day. An investigation by addiction experts from Hamburg came to similar results at the end of July.

Conclusion of the Ifo study: Children learned significantly less during school closings, but hardly used the free time for meaningful things, but mainly to be showered.

This is especially true for the young. On average, they spent twice as much time playing computer games or cell phones as girls. The differences between academic and non-academic households, on the other hand, are smaller than one might assume. The difference in daily learning time is just a quarter of an hour. According to the study, a significantly larger gap separates low-performing and high-performing students. Children who are already having a harder time in class have lost a particularly large amount of learning time and replaced it with a particularly large number of passive activities. The researchers conclude that the corona crisis is likely to have "further exacerbated the already high level of educational inequality in Germany".

How reliable are the numbers? The authors of the study openly admit a first methodological weakness: They can count hours and minutes, but cannot make any statements about how effectively students use the respective learning time. The second, probably even more important, question is: How realistic is the parents' assessment?

On the one hand, it is possible that they indicate the Corona learning time of their children too high, after all, they were jointly responsible for it. The study authors also consider this to be conceivable; possibly, they write, the students would have learned even less. On the other hand, an inverted distortion is also conceivable: that the parents overestimate the discrepancy between the time before and after Corona - for example out of anger about the teachers.

The researchers do not go into this possibility. This is surprising, because anger about the teachers - this is also a result of the study - is great. Almost half of the parents, 45 percent each, stated that their child never had online lessons with the class - and never had a face-to-face conversation with a teacher, for example on the phone. For two thirds this was the case at most once a week.

17 percent of parents also stated that their children had never received any feedback from their teachers for completing tasks. The scores are even higher for non-academic parents. For teachers who have had to take a lot of criticism during the crisis, this is bad testimony. 38 percent of parents were very or rather dissatisfied with the behavior of their schools - an "unusually high value", says researcher Woessmann.

In view of these numbers, it is not surprising that a large majority of almost 80 percent of parents are in favor of compulsory online lessons in the event of school closings - and for teachers to seek daily contact with their students. In the coming years, this study must be interpreted, it is not only important to close the knowledge gaps on the part of the students. But also a gap in trust between parents and teachers.