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Social Factors Most Challenging in COVID-19 Distance Learning

Social Factors Most Challenging in COVID-19 Distance Learning

Story Highlights

  • More than four in 10 say attention span, physical separation big challenges
  • Relatively few say access to resources or technical issues a problem
  • Parents positive about schools' handling of distance learning

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The 2019-2020 academic year is ending in a way no one could have imagined, with classes being taught virtually and many parents serving as their child's primary instructor as schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Asked to rate the various challenges they've faced with remote learning, parents are more likely to identify difficulties they or their child has had in adjusting to virtual learning as major challenges than technical or resource issues.

Forty-five percent say their children being separated from classmates and teachers has been a major challenge for their family, and 44% say the same about their child's attention span and motivation. Also, 43% of working parents say balancing a job and helping kids with school has been a major challenge for them.

Twenty-eight percent of parents say teaching their child in a way they can learn has been a major challenge, while relatively few say the same about technical issues with the computer or internet (10%) or difficulty accessing educational resources (4%).

Separation, Motivation and Balancing Work and Teaching Have Been U.S. Families' Biggest Challenges With Remote Learning
How much of a challenge have each of the following been in terms of remote/distance learning for your [oldest/youngest] child?
Major challenge Minor challenge Not a challenge
% % %
Being separated from classmates and teachers 45 41 14
Your child's attention span or motivation 44 34 22
Having to balance a job and helping kids with school ^ 43 29 28
Knowing how to teach your child in ways they can learn 28 40 32
Technical issues with the computer or internet 10 33 58
Inability to access educational websites or resources 4 29 67
^ Asked of employed parents
Gallup Panel, May 11-24, 2020

The results are based on interviews with more than 1,200 parents of children in grades kindergarten through 12 whose school is closed to in-person instruction. Ninety-seven percent of parents say their child's school is currently closed. The sample is drawn from Gallup's probability-based online panel.

Younger parents -- those under age 45 -- are significantly more likely than older parents to say child attention span or motivation is a major challenge, 50% to 33%. Presumably, this is because younger parents tend to have younger children who have shorter attention spans and require more hands-on instruction.

Additionally, younger parents (53%) who are employed are more than twice as likely as older working parents (24%) to say balancing work and school has been a major challenge for their family.

Parents Rate Schools Positively for Handling Distance Learning

More than seven in 10 parents rate the job their school is doing with various aspects of COVID-19 distance learning positively, with roughly one-third saying the school is doing an excellent job in each area.

Seventy-seven percent say their school is doing an excellent or good job of making teachers available to answer questions about schoolwork, while slightly fewer say the same about providing students the materials and equipment they need to do their schoolwork, communication from the superintendent and principal about distance learning, and communication from teachers about assignments.

U.S. Parents Positive About How Child's School Is Handling Distance Learning
How would you rate the job your [oldest/youngest] child's school is doing in each of the following areas?
Excellent Good Only fair Poor
% % % %
Teachers being available to answer questions you have 39 38 20 4
Communication about the distance learning program from the superintendent and/or principal 35 36 22 7
Providing the materials and equipment my child needs to do the schoolwork 33 42 19 5
Communication about specific assignments from teachers 31 41 20 8
Gallup Panel, May 11-24, 2020

Mothers are more likely than fathers to say their child's school is doing an excellent job in each of these areas, and younger parents are more likely than older parents to say the same.


The 2019-2020 school year has brought unprecedented disruption to schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, which forced most U.S. schools to close in March. For the most part, parents believe their child's school has met the challenge well. Still, despite the best efforts of schools, distance learning presents practical challenges for parents and students. Being isolated from classmates and teachers, inspiring motivation in children to complete their assignments, and balancing teaching with a paying job are the biggest challenges.

With the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year less than three months away, schools are still developing plans for what instruction will look like. The coronavirus continues to threaten public health, so it remains to be seen how much teaching and learning will be done in the traditional classroom setting versus online in the coming school year.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

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