How the COVID-19’s caused Shift to Online Learning will Widen Educational Gap
COVID-19 is a global pandemic that is affecting people and families all around the world. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illness as minor as a cold, but in some cases the virus can be far more fatal.
This recent outbreak is caused by a new strain of coronavirus, referred to now as COVID-19, which has not previously been seen in humans before the initial outbreak reported in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.
The human cost of the coronavirus outbreak has continued to mount every day. Current reports estimate that more than 5.23 million globally have been confirmed and more than 335,584 people have been known to have died from the disease. With the focal point of the coronavirus shifting from Wuhan/mainland China, Europe became the epicenter of the virus’s spread in early March.
COVID-19 and the role of Media
With the advent of this pandemic, a myriad of daily facets including work culture, networking, learning, transportation, delivery of essential services, etc., have had to evolve, adapt, be postponed, and in some cases be indefinitely canceled.
Mainstream media has continuously highlighted the impact COVID-19 has on the elderly population (because of their higher potential to catch and suffer from the disease), small businesses, and the economy of the future.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that these are importantly valid issues to notify the public about, however, an unfortunate trend pervades in the media’s reporting on this issue. Much in the same way they are treated already, low-income and economically disparaged families are once again overlooked during these troubled times.
Children’s Education in the time of Coronavirus
Indifference towards marginalized groups during times of crisis is not a particularly novel theme. The issue faced today is one of underprivileged children and how this entire pandemic will affect them. Ofsted, the UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, said that they are “seriously concerned” about the impact of partial closures on the most vulnerable pupils, for example, those in alternative provision.
“The longer the closure or almost closure, the greater the problems for those children,” said Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, in a recent parliamentary meeting. The chief inspector added that COVID-19 is clearly going to present the biggest problem for the poorest, the lowest-achieving academically, and the least motivated children.
Furthermore home-schooling, because of the coronavirus crisis, will widen the gap in performance between low and high achievers and between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers.
The UK department of education has responded to these concerns by announcing £12m will be spent on projects to reduce the increased risk some children and young people are facing as they stay at home – including support for families at risk of domestic abuse or exploitation. However even they acknowledge that there is “nothing special in place” to address all potential exacerbations.
This is because of a multitude of different factors that governments can’t simply resolve via generalized increased spending on existing programs/protocols. While commendable as the government’s efforts are in giving “free laptops and tablets” to low-income students, it only tackles a singular issue: making remote learning easier.
And this is where a lot of the differentiation between the importance of “School” for affluent versus disparaged families becomes clear. For many affluent students, the primary purpose of school is quite simply to obtain an education whilst hopefully in the process grow as a person. This rosy-tinted view doesn’t translate in the same way for those from low-income families.
Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Holistic Development
Children in affected communities will be impacted during this pandemic. They may be separated from their caregivers during quarantine or during admission to hospital which can make them very vulnerable. Caregivers that would essentially replace the roles of teachers in complementing the learning process for kids during this move to online schooling.
They might also have reduced access to essential health services, and school closures will interrupt their learning and leave them isolated. Kids from low-income families living in poverty often come to school without having had enough sleep, and without having had breakfast.
Their first meal of the day relies solely on the availability and accessibility of the schooling system in their area. Not only that, they often experience family violence, abuse, secondhand smoke, neglect, and general dangerous living conditions.
The fact of the matter is for these kids school is a place of safety. This is the frightening reality for millions of children, and governments must take heed to tackle all facets of this growing issue.
Materialistic and physical concerns aside, many children’s mental health and wellbeing are at real risk. Losing the stability of their routines, and cut off from friends, teachers, and family, millions of children are vulnerable to anxiety, fear, and loneliness. For the most affected and those who have lost their caregivers, the trauma and impact on wellbeing can potentially last a lifetime.
The Path Ahead
While unemployment is a factor in poverty for some, there are many who are employed and still live below the poverty line. A higher level of education is necessary to acquire more well-paying jobs that can sustain a family. Jobs that can potentially help children pull themselves up from this cyclical life that they had been born into.
But, without the necessary resources and their effective distribution to address these concerns, little improvement will be seen. In a time of never before seen uncertainty, it is undoubted that healthcare be the main government priority.
However, it is crucial to replicate the methodological practices being implemented in that field to that of education. Conventional policy-making techniques from the past can’t always have the same effect in the current social milieu.
Failure to modernize the approach of all branches of policy development will inevitably cause the continuation of yet another cyclical trend of poorly handled governmental policy-making decisions for low-income families.