Original Research Proposal

Hi there! My name is Sophia, and I am part of the 2021 cohort of scholars. I am excited to share my original research proposal that I have submitted for the Laidlaw Programme. Although the research process may change, the primary aim will remain the same. I hope you will enjoy reading it!

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How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted special needs children’s social and cognitive development?

Education is one of the most important contributing elements for child social and cognitive development. From Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (2009) to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development (1968), education and the schooling system’s environment are regarded as key influences for how a child further develops both socially and cognitively. From working with children through different initiatives over the years, I have been fortunate enough to experience these positive impacts of education first-hand. These experiences, coupled with the study of child development through my degree, have strengthened my interest in the subject area over the past two years.

Special education schools in Ireland are unique in terms of their teaching staff and available resources. When the closure of schools due to COVID-19 began last March, I found myself questioning how education could be delivered to children with special needs online, and the further impact this would have on parents who would now be lacking a key support system. Over the last year, I have read and heard of family members speaking of their struggle to cope with the changing routine, and lack of necessary resources and skills needed to facilitate the type of learning required for their child with special needs, ultimately influencing my desire to partake in the Laidlaw programme.

This project aims to identify which key areas of social and cognitive development have been impacted, and, in turn, what can be done to maximise the child’s social and cognitive development through online learning.

I will use quantitative and qualitative methods in my research, meaning a mixed-methods approach will be taken when investigating the RQ. This will allow for a compilation of the most relevant and accurate information. I plan to survey children and their parents to investigate how the closure of schools has impacted children with special needs’ social and cognitive development. Regarding primary data collection methods, I will contact special education schools to ask for participation from children and their parents in the first week of Summer 1. This will warrant

ethical approval through the college, which can be timely. With this in mind, if selected, I will submit my ethics application in the months leading up to the start of the programme to ensure I can begin collecting data in the first two weeks of Summer 1. On the subject of anonymity, I will not require any personal information so that participants can feel comfortable in their responses whilst also ensuring no sensitive information could be at risk.

Research limitations of my proposed research may arise as the degree to which the child can verbally communicate may be limited. With this in mind, I plan to use a mixed-methods approach when collecting data from children. This entails several different means by which a child can communicate how they feel the closure of schools has impacted them. This will include allowing children to respond through art, parents’ questions, or independently answering survey questions online. I will also include several questions regarding the child’s current social and cognitive abilities so that responses can reflect variations in these. Through these responses, I will identify common themes and thus analyse what implications children have felt the closure of schools has had on their development.

I have chosen to survey the children’s parents as I feel how the parents have coped with the closure of schools will directly impact how the child has coped. Multiple child developmental theories discuss the importance of parenting and parental influence of the child, so I feel this is an important factor to investigate.

I propose that all responses will be collected by week 3 of Summer 1. I will then begin analysing the survey results from the children and their parents using (1) thematic analysis of qualitative responses (Braun & Clarke, 2006) by identifying common themes, how often they occur, and what conclusion can be drawn by the presence of these themes and (2) statistical analysis using SPSSsoftware, to analyse quantitative data. I plan to have the analysis completed by the beginning of the 5th week. I will then spend the last two weeks preparing the presentation of my findings and what leadership skills I have gained through this experience.

In terms of international focus, I believe my research results will be applicable to a number of different scenarios. With over 63 countries closing schools on either a nationwide or local basis and over 47% of the world’s student population affected (WHO, 2021), I feel this research project will shed light on some of the implications this has had on special needs children and their families. From the results of my research, I hope to propose a community outreach programme that could help alleviate some of the added stresses faced by these children and their families.

With my supervisor’s speciality in developmental psychology and association with the multidisciplinary Trinity Research in Childhood Centre, I will have a range of expertise and practical supports available to support all aspects of my research. I will also be afforded training and presentation opportunities to hone my research skills and continuously learn about the topic on hand.

With the uncertainty of the future, I have designed my research project so that data collection and analysis will still be possible in the event of a lockdown. However, if restrictions are lifted, I would like to collaborate with the National Council for Special Education and the School of Education in Trinity. I would set this up as scoping work to involve key professors and specialists by asking them to share their views on the matter, which I can then incorporate into my survey design and data analysis.

References

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa 

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2009). Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Harvard University Press.

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis (No. 7). WW Norton & company.

World Health Organisation. (2021, January). WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard [Fact sheet]. Retrieved February 1, 2021, from https://covid19.who.int/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAvP6ABhCjARIsAH37rbSeSwneL3Q_VLS9Y0J0NbIQJmSW3zFQS1GP1yTNwt9ShzwGx9MCHpwaAiDyEALw_wcB    

Sophia Tierney

Student, Trinity College Dublin