When COVID first hit, five of Jean Davis' children were still at school.
The sudden restrictions and the switch to remote learning meant she struggled to keep them all connected with their education.
"It was hard going," she said.
"We only had phone access to the internet at the beginning of COVID."
When Jean was offered one of The Smith Family's Digital Inclusion Packs, which included a laptop and internet access as well as technical support, she was thrilled.
For her daughter, who was doing Year 12 at the time, it was "life changing".
"That laptop and internet access meant that my daughter was able to pass Year 12," she said.
"Without it she wouldn't have been able to join Zoom tutorials and communicate with her teachers and colleagues.
"It also meant that the younger kids could keep up their mathletics and stay in contact with their online reading buddy through the Chatty Kids mentoring site."
Before the start of the pandemic, nearly one in four (23 per cent) of students on The Smith Family's Learning for Life scholarship program didn't have access to a suitable device at home.
Like the Davis family, many of these students struggled to stay engaged with their education.
"We're investing a lot in helping families get back on track with a whole range of programs," The Smith Family CEO, Doug Taylor said.
"Our teams have been actively engaged with families, providing additional support and responding to their needs.
"Over the course of the pandemic, we've sent out over 5,000 Digital Inclusion Packs to the families that don't have any technological access in the home.
"That's been a real game changer for those families."
But there is more to be done.
Even now, one in six (15 per cent) families supported by The Smith Family are still without a suitable device or reliable internet access - both essential tools for a 21 st century education.
But the effects of COVID on education are not limited to technology.
In a new survey (The Smith Family Pulse Survey: Feedback from parents and carers 2022) conducted by The Smith Family, two-thirds (66 per cent) of parents and carers reported that COVID made starting school difficult this year and more than half (54 per cent) said it was still making learning difficult.
Among the concerns were impacts on mental health, worries about getting COVID, missing school due to being unwell with COVID or being in isolation, and disrupted routines and connections between children, parents and teachers.
For those living with disadvantage, these are just extra obstacles to overcome on top of the challenges they already face.
Many of these Jean Davis experienced first-hand.
"The kids really struggled with lockdown and not going to school," she said. "They hated not having the emotional, mental and physical connection with school. And it affected their learning."
With the change in routine and uncertainty their mental health suffered, and they became less engaged.
"They were asking: what's the point?" she said. "Their dreams of the future and what it holds were shattered. They were just going week by week, term by term."
It wasn't just students who felt the effect of restrictions and remote learning.
Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of parents who responded to the survey said they also struggled.
"Remote learning was beyond hard. It was mentally and emotionally draining," Jean said. "I'm not a teacher and I don't understand the curriculum."
With restrictions being eased and a feeling that we are coming out of the pandemic, Jean Davis described her children as "resilient but tired".
"If COVID hasn't broken them, it will definitely make them stronger," she said.
"They're fighting to get through and get back to normality and stability.
They're fighting to get through and get back to normality and stability.- Jean Davis, mother
"They were desperate to get back to school and their friends."
Doug Taylor believes we all have a role to play in helping children to get back on track, and drawing on the strength and resources of the wider community is key.
"This is not just a job for schools alone," he said. "In fact, one of the positives to come out of COVID has been that 're-awakening' of community - people going out of their way to help others doing it tough and stay connected during periods of isolation."
It's something Jean saw.
"People looked out for each other," she said. "They wrote letters, made phone calls and checked in on people."
She also noticed an increased appreciation of the work that teachers do and role of the school in the community.
"Teachers were emailing the students every day," she said. "They were concerned if they didn't hear from a student for a day."
She recalled the joy of her children during a "drive-through" arranged by their school.
The school gates were opened, and families were able to drive through the grounds and re-engage with their teachers from the car.
"Kids were holding up signs for their teachers saying, 'Miss you'," Jean said.
"The teachers were telling the kids, 'It'll be okay. Hang in there'."
She believes that support and encouragement made all the difference for the students.
"It made the kids excited about the prospect of going back to school."
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