A room at Tuggeranong Community Centre fills with chatter as students and tutor set up for their weekly learning club.
Lucy and Aidan King have been attending the club run by The Smith Family for about 18 months and now look forward to their weekly sessions.
"I like to do maths and play Uno with my tutor and it's really fun," Lucy said.
Aidan was struggling with maths but found it was much easier to learn in the one-on-one sessions.
"The tutors are talking to one person. At school, it's like they're talking to like 20 different people at once."
Anecdotally, the four learning clubs in the ACT have been helping students stay engaged with school, especially in light of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But new research published by the University of Queensland suggests that more work needs to be done to evaluate and rollout evidence-based programs for vulnerable students.
The Smith Family regional programs manager NSW & ACT Olga Srbovski said many of the families in touch with the charity would take a lot longer to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
She said some children didn't have the resources at home to work effectively during the period of remote learning.
"We have really been worried about our young people who spent a lot of time away from the classroom and trying to learn from home and they have fallen behind.
"This one-on-one tutoring that we're providing through our learning clubs and also through some other programs are really there to try and get our young people to a point where they're catching up."
She said ACT families were also struggling amid a competitive housing market. The Smith Family was in contact with a single-parent family who put in 300 rental applications and were split up while couch-surfing for six months before finding a place to live.
"They finally found a home but the stress was so awful on all of them that that still impacts on them."
Director of the Institute of Social Science Research at University of Queensland Professor Mark Western worked on the Learning through COVID-19 project, funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation from mid-2020.
The researches wanted to know what effect the time away from the classroom had on young children who were behind when they started school, senior high school students who were disengaged from the system and children who had contact with the child protection system.
The findings were surprising. These students were already behind before Covid hit, but this gap didn't necessarily get worse because of the pandemic.
"That was kind of contrary to our expectations but it's also a conclusion that's been supported a bit by some of the other research," Professor Western said.
He said often governments and organisations invested in education interventions without a strong, local evidence base.
"We discovered that there were programs that were available in Australia where there's either no evidence of their effectiveness or the evidence is a bit mixed so they seem to work maybe for some students or they work for some outcomes but not for others," Professor Western said.
In the case of the learning clubs, 84 per cent of participants said it helped them do better in class, 88 per cent of students said going to the club made them try harder at school.
Ms Srbovski said they would like to expand the learning clubs with the help of more volunteers and donations to the Smith Family winter appeal.
"We are looking at raising much needed funds to support the education of more than 12,000 young people living in poverty. In the ACT that's around 700 students."
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