The pandemic might seem behind us now, but the negative effects of remote learning still linger. School closures present unique challenges for kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds, many of whom fell even further behind during lockdown and are having a hard time catching up.

Reduced interaction renders less effective learning

Students tend to learn less during remote learning rather than in the classroom. Australian teachers believe students learnt at only about 50-to-75 per cent of their usual pace during the COVID-19 lockdowns (1). Lack of one-on-one interaction with their teacher means kids are required to be self-motivated and self-disciplined for independent learning, which is not an easy task for newly arrived kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds who are already behind. Many kids, especially who have a shy, reserved personality, find it difficult to speak up and ask questions. Being isolated from their peers also keeps them from actively engaging in the lessons and participating in thought-provoking discussions that they need to comprehend what the teachers are teaching them.

“I found it difficult to learn reading, writing and maths during remote leaning because there were some things I didn’t know but the teacher was not there for me to ask, so I really didn’t get that much working. When I went back to school, I had to get a lot more done. It’s like I had to catch up because I didn’t understand [during remote learning], and I found it difficult.” – Alysha, Sidekicks Junior Student.

Teachers are not fully prepared to facilitate remote learning

Being required to adopt new ways of working at short notice, many teachers found online teaching considerably challenging. When there is little technical training or time to develop high quality remote lesson plans, students are likely to learn less. It is also harder for teachers to oversee students’ work, give face-to-face feedback and cater to their specific need.

Digital divide limits students’ access to quality learning

Kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds often have poorer internet access and fewer technological devices compared to their mates. 69% of the kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds supported by RMCC went into school lockdown without the technology and internet connection they needed to participate in remote learning.

Thanks to the support from our Tech to Connect donors, RMCC was able to give 124 computers plus free internet access to our kids. This helps them re-engage with teachers and friends and access our weekly mentoring support to catch up with school. That said, limited access to technology is still a significant obstacle for kids from low socio-economic households which will prevent them from learning at home.

Kids lack an ideal learning environment and academic support from parents

Many kids at a disadvantage are less likely to have a desk or quiet place to study. On top of lacking a favourable study environment, they potentially have to help their parents with house chores – cooking, taking care of siblings, doing laundry, and so on. This reduces their concentration and disrupts their learning process. Greater financial stress in the home due to parents losing jobs or income during the COVID-19 crisis also puts extra pressure on kids and makes learning harder. On the other hand, parents who are busy juggling work and other commitments with children learning at home are less likely to be able to help their kids with study. Some parents admit their limited knowledge on technology and Australian school’s policy and curriculum keep them from supporting their kids academically.

Once behind, it’s even harder to catch up

Even before the pandemic, there had always been an achievement gap between children at a disadvantage compared to their friends. This achievement gap widens at triple the rate in remote schooling compared to regular class (2).

Even if remote learning was working well, kids at a disadvantage learnt only 25-to-50 per cent of what they would normally learn in class (3). That’s why those who fell behind during the COVID-19 crisis will find it exceptionally hard to catch up. Struggling students can become more disengaged and less motivated to fully participate in their lesson, hence slip even further back. And the cycle repeats.

Extra support is critical

Facing more barriers compared to their peers during lockdown means kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds need extra support to catch up on learning losses from remote schooling. In a survey of 300 teachers across Australia, almost all believed extra catch-up support would be crucial. Without the support they need, these kids will face life-long consequences from low achievement at school, including limited options for further study and work opportunities and lower lifetime earnings.

What RMCC does is to ensure no child is left behind

Understanding how their challenges are furthered by lockdown, RMCC has adapted and expanded our weekly mentoring programs and provided material and mental support to address our kids’ unique needs and growing demand. RMCC kids are offered a judgment-free and shame-free space to ask questions while connecting and socialising with their peers during isolation. They are also given additional materials and support in different subjects they identify they need further support with. Our mentors act as their equals who are always there to help, also guiding them through life skill workshops that build confidence and resilience.

In our recent survey, 100 per cent of the kids in our programs found the sessions helpful and they have learnt something new every time they participate.

“A mum whose kid is in RMCC Sidekicks Junior Program said she used to not be confident doing the reading in front of the whole class, but now she can. A dad said his kid didn’t contribute much in class earlier but now feel more comfortable speaking and participating in discussions. Another parent in our Side-by-Side program said her daughter used to be afraid to ask questions but now she shows visible improvement in confidence and self-esteem – and that makes her feel very happy and hopeful” – Soheila, RMCC Program Manager

It is important to acknowledge that not every kid faces the same challenges during and after the pandemic – each of them has a unique need as they move through school and their community.

That’s why RMCC works with each child to address their needs and effectively help them close the gaps in the skills and knowledge they will need for further learning and building social connections. It’s equally vital to work with the key figures in their lives – parents or guardians and schools to help the kids holistically every step of the way. Ultimately, our goal is to empower our kids to find their own voice and have it heard, and help them build the confidence to achieve what they are fully capable of in the future.


(1)  Sonnemann, J. and Goss, P. (2020). COVID catch-up: helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap. Grattan Institute. Page 6.

(2) Sonnemann, J. and Goss, P. (2020). COVID catch-up: helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap. Grattan Institute. Page 16.

(3) Sonnemann, J. and Goss, P. (2020). COVID catch-up: helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap. Grattan Institute. Page 6.


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