Student speech development slowed by lockdowns

Student speech development slowed by lockdowns

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Primary schools are helping students recover from speech development delays and learning loss brought on by Victoria’s extended lockdowns.

Valerie Lobry, principal of Cohuna Consolidated School in northern Victoria, said she had hired speech pathologists for extra support to address a noticeable progress gap after months of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools are helping students recover learning loss after rolling lockdowns.Credit:Lyn Osborn

“We have noticed there’s an impact on speech development with younger kids. It’s a lot of the kids who were in foundation last year,” Ms Lobry said.

“A number of schools have got speech pathology-in-school programs and that’s helping and a lot of people are getting more in addition to our usual speech pathology access.

“We’ve got speech pathologists upskilling teachers and doing observations in class. We have the programs in place I believe to help the children and maintain their progress.”

Professor Angela Morgan, head of speech and language at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and speech pathologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital, said the limited interactions brought on by isolation had affected language learning in many young children, while speech may have already been a challenge for children with genetic or developmental conditions.

“Now that we’ve noticed the problems, which people are now identifying, if we can quickly act to provide that extra support, then that’s fantastic to help get them back on the right trajectory,” she said.

Professor Morgan said not addressing language issues could have broader effects on a child’s education and mental health.

“Children with speech problems are two to three times more at risk of other literacy issues, that is reading and spelling and language issues,” she said.

“The psychosocial impacts of having a speech or language disorder too; children could become more withdrawn or frustrated because of their communication difficulties.

“I have encountered that a bit more in my own practice as well. I’ve seen children more frustrated than usual. That isolation and impaired communication is having an impact on their self-esteem.”

Humanitarian organisation Unicef Australia this month surveyed 1000 parents nationally and found learning loss was the second biggest reason parents backed reopening schools, after mental health concerns. About 27 per cent of parents said they were concerned their child would not be able to catch up.

UNICEF Australia chief executive Tony Stuart said it was important to assess and manage learning that has been lost during lockdown.

“We recognise that schools and parents are doing their best to provide learning in very challenging circumstances but the quality of teaching provided in classrooms simply cannot be achieved remotely while students have limited contact with their teacher and parents have work commitments to fulfil,” Mr Stuart said.

While schools are making strides in catching children up, including the state government’s new Tutor Learning Initiative, Professor Morgan said there are simple, universal techniques that parents, teachers and carers can use to support children’s language and literacy development.

“Joint book reading, nursery rhymes, having a very verbal household, asking children questions about what you’ve just read, asking them to paraphrase or repeat, checking comprehension or understanding; we know these have always worked,” she said.

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