Survey: Families Receive Distance Learning Crash Course

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As more children return to class, a new survey shows that some families have seen silver linings in virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, including money savings from having their children study at home.

However, the survey also shows strong differences of opinion based on the gender of the parents, the age of the child and the learning model. In general, teenage and hybrid learner mothers and parents have less rosy views about the educational, financial, and psychological implications of distance learning.

One parent, Kristina Rowland, a regional vice president of Primerica Financial Services who lives in Centennial, Colorado and is a former educator, said she and her husband Chris decided to home-school their three children – Patrick, 13, Gabriel , 11, and Aurora, 7, from March 2020.

“Our experience was incredible,” said Rowland, adding that one of her children who was bullied at school and had problems “is relearning, relearning,” and the whole family can travel together.

The children had space to pursue special interests such as robotics, engineering, and the chemistry of cooking. Parents have supplemented classes with trips, including one to San Antonio, Texas to see the Alamo while studying American history.

“None of us want to be the way it was before,” she says.

Almost eight in ten parents with children under 18 (79 percent) stated that their children had at least some of their children received distance learning in the past year. Almost half of this group (46 percent) said their children studied entirely remotely, while 34 percent said their children had a mix of distance and face-to-face teaching, like a Bankrate.com survey of over 2,500 US adults, which was conducted online by YouGov in February. (See survey methodology.)

“I thought a lot more parents would be itching to put their kids back in the classroom all day,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com. He added, “It’s hard to tell if parents really liked distance learning or if they just thought it was the best option in a difficult situation.”

But we should learn more as the mass vaccination of COVID-19 and the relaxation of government restrictions are causing many schools to bring back teachers and students. Judging from Bankrate data, Rossman said, “Some parents will be uncomfortable while others will be delighted.”

For some families, savings have been made through distance learning

Some parents said that virtual learning has helped their households save money on school supplies and has had a generally positive impact on family finances.

In fact, 38 percent of U.S. adults with children under the age of 18 who have participated in at least virtual learning since March 2020 said that the situation had a positive impact on their overall money situation, and only 18 percent said it was negative has had an impact on family finances, according to the Bankrate survey.

Parents of full distance learners had a particularly good outlook on the impact on family finances (47 percent positive versus 14 percent negative), while parents of hybrid learners shared the financial impact of distance learning equally (26 percent positive and 23 percent negative). ).

Regardless of whether parents see good or bad financial repercussions, distance learning has definitely shifted household expenses. In each category, some families said they were spending more because of virtual learning, while others said they had spent less.

The largest spending increases found in the survey were in these two categories:

  • Electronics: Half of the parents (50 percent) said they would spend more money on computers, tablets and software.
  • Furniture: Almost a third of parents (32 percent) said they would spend more money on items such as desks and work chairs.

Many families have had to remodel their homes to create quiet spaces for both children studying online and parents working remotely, said Colin Exelby, CFP and Financial blogger whose kids switched to virtual full-time learning last fall (his first grader recently launched a hybrid model). In some cases, this has meant spending a significant amount of money on chairs, desks, dividers, laptops, and other items to make the arrangement work.

“Last summer, IKEA’s children’s desks were sold out … and IKEA is no small place,” he said.

These additional expenses were offset by cuts in school clothing and supplies, with more than a third (34 percent) of parents saying they had spent less in this category. This may have been of great help to many families, as school clothes can be an expensive item in the family budget, Exelby said.

Families were evenly divided on the impact of distance learning on childcare spending (29 percent said they spent more and 25 percent said they spent less) and school supplies (32 percent said they spent more, while 31 percent said spend less).

Sam Zelinka, a personal finance blogger and parent of virtual learner who Tracked family expenses during the pandemic, said his family saved a lot by not attending daycare for their then four-year-old for six months. But they spent a lot more in other categories that had nothing to do with virtual learning (like home improvement and restaurants). They did not spend anything on school clothes, but bought special “Zoom pajamas” for their middle child.

“In the end it turned out that it was a wash in terms of expenses,” said Zelinka.

But virtual education not only changed the family’s spending behavior, it also influenced the employability of many parents. The most common reasons the survey found for distant learning parents’ financial hardship were:

  • More expenses for other expenses such as technology, tutoring and food (48 percent)
  • Limited career opportunities due to the compatibility of work and childcare (34 percent)
  • Reduced working hours to monitor distance learning (33 percent)
  • Work interruption or termination due to virtual learning requirements (23 percent)

“Virtual learning has had a profound impact on parenting employment,” Rowland said, adding that the negative effects have worsened as more parents return to personal work.

Almost one in four (23 percent) female parents said distance learning had a negative impact on family finances, while just over one in ten (13 percent) male parents made the same statement. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that more women than men cut hours and at the beginning of the pandemic quit work, then more men started doing the same.

“I know a greater number of mothers who are staying home now because of so much monitoring in hybrid learning,” Rowland said.

The pros and cons of online learning go beyond finance

Virtual learning has created difficulties for many families, with very real drawbacks often reported during the coronavirus pandemic. But some parents of virtual learner saw great benefits over the past year.

More than four in ten (43 percent) parents of distance learning said the experience had a positive impact on their children’s education, while one in three (33 percent) had a negative impact.

Parents of completely isolated students and younger children had a much more optimistic attitude than parents of hybrid learners and older children. More than half (54 percent) of parents of completely removed students reported positive educational effects, compared with less than a third (30 percent) of parents with hybrid learners. And parents of children aged 5 to 9 years reported positive effects on education more often (47 percent) than parents of 14 to 17 year olds (31 percent).

A similar pattern emerged when parents were asked to assess the impact of distance learning on their own mental health. Almost half of parents of completely removed students (45 percent) reported positive effects on the mental health of the parents, compared with just over one in four (27 percent) of parents with hybrid learners. And more parents of 5 to 9 year olds (37 percent) reported positive effects on their own mental health than parents of 14 to 17 year olds (30 percent).

Rowland was not at all surprised by these differences. Parents of full-time learners she knows are much less stressed out, while parents of hybrid learners juggle ever-changing schedules and tasks – like making sure each child has clean school clothes, lunch, and a trip to school on the right days. Hybrid learner parents “always seem to be behind eight,” she said.

Recovering from money problems caused by distance learning

Has your family been negatively affected by distance learning? When the children return to face-to-face classes, it is worth thinking ahead of time about the steps you can take to recover financially. Here are three tips:

Keep an eye on cash flow

If you’ve had to cut your hours – or even quit your job due to virtual learning – and your kids go back to school, you may be able to increase your hours or start a job search. First, focus on getting revenue back on track. “Cash flow is king,” said Exelby.

Work on debt settlement

The survey found that almost one in four (23 percent) virtual learner parents say that the cumulative Credit card debt as a result. If you have high yield credit card debt, look for a credit card with a 0 percent balance transfer offer or some other way to restructure this debt to pay it off faster, advised Exelby. And before you do a stimulus check on your debt, consider whether you’d better put that money into savings, he said.

Make a money plan

Contact a financial planner or make a plan yourself. A good financial plan should include: a way to save for emergencies, a debt relief plan, a proper insurance review to make sure you are not over-insured or under-insured, and a plan to invest so that someday you can quit to work and still eat, said Rowland.

“Having a plan is 100 percent better than not having a plan,” she said.

Meanwhile, Zelinka said his children did well and learned resilience through virtual learning. But he recently found out that by the end of the school year both will study in person again. And he can’t wait.

“I’m really looking forward to the day you go back to school,” he said. “I did the math and it will be exactly 12 days both of them are at school before the summer vacation starts.”


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