How prepared were primary teachers and pupils in England for the shift to online learning? Insights from TIMSS 2019

Maria Galvis and Dawson McClean

08 December 2020

In this report, we used data from the 2019 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), collected before the onset of the pandemic, [1] to illustrate global differences in digital familiarity in the classroom and teacher professional development in technology. The influence these factors have on pupil performance in maths or science in normal times is not straightforward. However, they do provide a useful indication of how well countries were positioned to engage with a rapid and unexpected shift to remote learning due to COVID-19.

Key Findings

  • Before the pandemic, the variation in availability of computers for Year 5 pupils across countries was considerable, with an international average below 50 per cent for both maths and science lessons. Access for pupils in England was below this average, whereas among high-performing comparator countries it was 14 percentage points higher.
  • Higher availability of computers did not necessarily translate to more frequent use of computers in the classroom. Like other high-performing countries, teachers in England were relatively infrequent users of computers in the classroom. The percentage of Year 5 pupils using computers at least once a week for schoolwork in England was 12 percentage points lower than the international average in science and three percentage points lower in maths.
  • Internationally, only a third of Year 5 pupils had teachers that participated in professional development in integrating technology into maths instructions in the two years prior to the survey. England was below this average, where only 18 per cent of pupils had teachers who had participated in this training.
  • Year 5 pupils in more affluent schools in England were much more likely to have access to computers and exposure to their use in learning. This socioeconomic gap was not reflected in teacher training in technology incorporation.

[1] Data collection for TIMSS 2019 was carried out between October 2018 and April 2019, making it a valuable source of pre-pandemic information.