Survey says: Many students not participating in distance learning

East Hawaii teachers say few students consistently participated in online learning after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, according to the preliminary results of a distance learning survey recently released by the state Department of Education.

The survey of teachers and secondary students focused on distance-learning experiences during the closure of schools following spring break in the following areas: student and teacher access to devices, internet connectivity, student well-being, student engagement and experience in learning, and teacher professional needs, the DOE said.


In the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area, 12 of 139 elementary teachers said between 61% and 80% of students consistently participated in distance learning. Just two said 81%-100% of students participated.

Approximately a third, 33%, said zero to 20% of their students engaged in distance learning while schools were closed.

At the middle and high school levels, just four of 113 teachers in the complex area said students consistently engaged, while 79 said 0% to 20% of their students did.

Just 14 of 139 elementary school teachers in the Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area said students consistently participated in distance learning during the school closures, compared to 46 who said 0% to 20% of their students did.

Similarly, only 14 of 165 middle and high school teachers surveyed said their students consistently participated, but 90 teachers said fewer than 20% of students did.

Students, however, said otherwise.

Of the 175 responses in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area, 141 students, or 81%, said they consistently participated in distance learning through online devices, while just 34, or 19% said they did not.

Sixty-six, or 38%, said they participated through paper packets that were distributed to students.

In the Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area, 190 students, or 83% of the 228 who responded, said they used online devices for distance learning, while 38, or 17%, said they didn’t.

Fifty-two, or 23%, of students used paper packets, according to the survey results.

Lack of reliable internet access was a barrier for many students.

Only 69% of the responding students in Hilo-Waiakea said they had quite reliable or extremely reliable internet access at home, while 72% of the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa students surveyed did.

Only 94, or 23%, of 414 teachers in the Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area were “quite confident” about online teaching, while just 21, or 5%, were “extremely confident.”

Meanwhile, in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area, 85, or 27%, of 311 teachers, were “quite confident,” and 21, or 7%, were “extremely confident.”

For Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias said the survey results were not surprising, but added they aren’t necessarily representative of the rural complex area.

“I don’t think it tells the real story about our complex area and what’s going on with some of our kids.”

Farias said his complex area will use the data from the survey — along with what they know and have learned about students and families through other events, like the Puna lava flows in 2014 and 2018 — to formulate future plans.

Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area Superintendent Esther Kanehailua also said the results will be used to plan for the upcoming school year.

She’s particularly interested in students’ responses to the survey about connecting with teachers, “because that’s one of the concerns — how do we take care of students when we don’t see them face-to-face?”

Kanehailua said it’s easy to make that connection when you’re in school, but when students aren’t, the ways and frequency with which teachers reached out varied.

Because there wasn’t time to prepare for online learning before schools closed due to the pandemic, Kanehailua said she wants to hear what students say worked, what could be improved, and what could be done differently.

She’s also awaiting the results of an ongoing parent survey.

The DOE currently is seeking participation from parents and guardians for its family distance-learning survey, which remains open until June 30.


A second survey, focused on summer learning experiences, will be distributed in July to teachers, secondary students and families for additional insight as the DOE continues to plan for the new school year.

Full results from the student and teacher surveys can be found online at SurveyDashboard.

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