Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Vulnerable Students, Inclusion, and Digital Education in the Covid‐19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Case Study From Austria

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Abstract:  Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion students had to switch to distance learning in 2020. Education took place at home, where parents attended to their children, and teachers taught their students in digital mode, while minors were physically and socially isolated from their peers. Concerning the situation in Austria, several quantitative studies expose two central challenges: First, the comprehensive lack of digital infrastructure disrupted (digital) distance learning. Second, the Covid‐19 pandemic particularly affected vulnerable students and extended educational inequality. The state of the art emphasizes a lack of qualitative studies demonstrating different perspectives on the educational situation of vulnerable students in general and with SEN in particular during the pandemic. This leads to the following research question: How do professional actors map the situation of inclusive and digital education during the Covid‐19 pandemic in Austria? To research this unprecedented situation, four focus groups with diverse stakeholders (teachers, principals, psychologists, and school board employees) discussed their experiences in the school years 2019–2020 and 2020–2021. Data were analyzed according to the Grounded Theory method of the postmodern approach referred to as “situational analysis.” The study visualizes various parallel discourses and voices within the situation of (digital distance) learning during the Covid‐19 pandemic. The theoretical context of the intersection of inclusive and digital education frames the empirical findings. Central findings relate to missing or discriminatory guidelines and policies, a lack of digital infrastructure, and altered professional‐pedagogical support that minimized or disrupted inclusive education during (digital) distance learning.

Keywords:  Austria; Covid‐19 pandemic; digital divide; distance learning; exclusion; inclusive education; SEN



© Lisa-Katharina Möhlen, Susanne Prummer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.