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Schools in the Corona Crisis: Significant Differences between Urban and Rural Areas

2021-05-21 Around 30 per cent of all pupils in Germany had no regular contact with their schools during the first Corona-related school closures in spring 2020. Accordingly, especially in rural regions, it was not possible to maintain contact. Only about 25 per cent of the pupils in the rural regions of Germany also received learning materials in online lessons during the school closure - in cities it was about 60 per cent. This is shown by the second survey wave of the longitudinal and representative school leadership study Leadership in German Schools (LineS), which is being conducted jointly by researchers from the Universities of Lüneburg and Tübingen and the University of Teacher Education of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

The Corona crisis caught schools in Germany unprepared and presented them with new and previously unknown challenges. In particular, the repeated school closures and the associated abolition of face-to-face teaching meant that many pupils lost contact with their teachers and new forms of learning and teaching had to be introduced at short notice that differed from traditional forms of teaching. Nationwide, only about three out of four school children (71%) in Germany had regular contact - i.e. at least once a week - with their school during the school closures in spring 2020; in rural regions, at school locations with less than 3,000 inhabitants, even only three out of five pupils (60%).

Throughout Germany, communication with these pupils mostly took place in direct exchange between teachers and individual pupils (89%), e.g. via telephone or mass messenger service or by providing learning material on learning platforms (75%). Learning together in small groups (41%) or even in classes (33%), on the other hand, rarely took place during the school closures in spring 2020. In this respect, too, there are clear differences between schools in rural and urban areas: Digital forms of learning and contact were used significantly more often in urban areas than at schools in rural areas. Learning together in small groups, for example, took place in rural areas of Germany in only 19 per cent of all schools, and learning together in classes in only 16 per cent of all schools - in urban areas, on the other hand, around 40 per cent of all schools kept in contact with their pupils in this way.

"We see that at the beginning of the Corona pandemic, schools lost contact with many children in Germany for several weeks", says Marcus Pietsch, Professor of General Educational Science at the Institute of Educational Science "clear stand-state differences come to light. What is particularly explosive is that, especially in the countryside, it seems that even those pupils with whom contact could be maintained were hardly able to be taught in online classes."

"The nationwide school closures pose an enormous challenge for all school stakeholders and reveal clear differences between school locations. Online teaching was not a standard feature of schools in Germany at the beginning of the pandemic and the non-digital or analogue provision of learning materials to pupils was part of the everyday life of many teachers, pupils and parents. The fact that it has apparently not been possible to ensure regular contact and enable online teaching, particularly in rural areas of Germany, gives pause for thought. It seems important to take a closer look at these schools and to clarify why this has happened and to what extent this problem is a structural one that can be remedied by targeted investments, e.g. in digital infrastructure."

On the background to the study

The results presented here are part of a supplement to the Leadership in German Schools (LineS) study conducted by the Universities of Lüneburg (PD Dr. Marcus Pietsch) and Tübingen (Prof. Dr. Colin Cramer and Dr. Jana Groß Ophoff) and by the University of Teacher Education of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (Prof. Dr. Pierre Tulowitzki). From April to June 2020, the data evaluated here were collected during the first nationwide school closures in the context of the Corona pandemic among N = 306 randomly selected headmasters of general education schools by forsa GmbH using an online questionnaire. The data and analyses are part of a larger representative study that was started in 2019 among school headmasters in Germany. Of the 405 school headmasters already surveyed in 2019, 218 headmasters were reached again. These data were supplemented by a further 88 sets of data from additional school headmasters recruited for the survey (refreshment sample).

Download the report

A short report on the study is available for download.