There is an ongoing debate on how students will benefit from online courses to help bridge the gap caused by the stay-at-home policies meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
While some experts believe that this is a brilliant and futuristic approach, others are also of the view that the harsh realities of racial and economic divide will prevent everyone from benefiting from online classes.
There are some undisputed realities that have been brought to bare as a result of the virus. This reveals the deplorable conditions some students, especially those in under resourced schools in the USA and other parts of the world are facing mainly because of income disparities.
It has been established that blacks and ethnic minorities are the worst hit races by COVID-19 infections and deaths. The absence rates during online lessons in these under resourced schools and school districts are more glaring now, according to New York Times.
“The absence rate appears particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty,” writes the Times. “Some teachers report that less than half their students are regularly participating.”
“The trend is leading to widespread concern among educators, with talk of a potential need for summer sessions, an early start in the fall, or perhaps having some or even all students repeat a grade once Americans are able to return to classrooms.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is closely monitoring the temporary closure of educational institutions worldwide and reports that the closures are impacting over 91% of the world’s student population. There are about 1.5 million students who have been affected by the closures.
Inasmuch as the impact is worldwide, those in impoverished communities are feeling the impact more than those on the affluent side of the spectrum.
Eric Gordon, chief executive of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, told the Times an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the district’s students do not have stable internet at home.
The district has stepped in to provide the much-needed support to the new online learning modules. Worksheets will also be printed and shared with free meals. This improvisation is meant to help the students who do not have access to the technology to level up.
A 2018 study by Pew Research Center revealed that out of four black teens, one of them cannot do their homework most of the time because they do not have computers or Wi-Fi, whereas only 13 percent of white teenagers encountered similar issues.
In an ideal situation, these underprivileged children from the black and ethnic minority communities could perch with their more ‘affluent’ mates. Now, that option is off the table because of social distancing meant to prevent the spread of the virus.
In some African countries, their educational services are doing their best to keep the students educated as well through online learning, televised classes and social media. We cannot deny the fact that there is a huge digital divide that will be a big impediment or will inhibit the main aim for online learning that the countries want to achieve.
In most African countries, the reality is that less than half of the people have access to mobile phones, tablets or computer and internet access. There are also some conditions at home that are not learning friendly. Some children have less support as well, which makes the lack of amenities and the participation in online classes even more burdensome.
“A lot of our students have siblings they have to take care of, and their parents are still going out and working,” Los Angeles County-based teacher, Heber Marquez told the Times. “It makes it very difficult to log on at the same time as feeding breakfast to their siblings or helping with chores.”
Interestingly, their affluent counterparts in some selective schools have “close to 100 percent of students are participating in online learning,” the Times reports.
There would be so much catching up for the many children struggling to keep up with the online lessons. Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, told the Times that effects and aftermath of the coronavirus school shutdowns and campus closures “could have implications for years.”
“Many skills build one on another,” Casserly said. “If a child misses out on some key idea, then all of a sudden, additional ideas as they’re introduced just become Greek.”
“Will we need some kind of beginning of the year diagnostics to try and figure out just where the kids are, how much they have lost?”
Everyone is in favor of schools closing to protect the children and stop the spread of the virus, but the adverse effects are undeniable.
For many, they will pull through unscathed, but for those in typically black and ethnic communities in the US their story is like the many African children and other children across the world, who are facing challenges with the new mode of studies.