Many governments across the world have temporarily closed educational institutions to curb the spread of COVID-19. The latest figures released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics showed that more than 1.5 billion learners are not able to attend school or university. This is equivalent to 91.4% of total enrolled learners from pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary, upper-secondary, and tertiary levels of education worldwide.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, another 284 million learners are being affected in some way by closures at a localized level, such as those seen in US states like California and Virginia. Most governments aren’t sure these closures would end. But, the UN has already warned of the unparalleled scale and speed of the educational disruption due to the coronavirus.
Homeschooling and Online Learning
The decisions of schools to close amid the coronavirus pandemic have forced millions of students into ‘home-schooling’ situations. These changes not only have caused a degree of inconvenience for students, parents, and instructors but also affected the learnings of the students. Previous studies have shown that any amount of time out of the classroom can be detrimental to students' learning, especially for those who are already disadvantaged.
Doug Fuchs, a professor of special education at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, said that a student who is two grade levels behind their typically developing peers will be "much worse off" than their classmates who are on or above grade level when in-person classes resume. "A lot of these underperforming students are underperforming partly because many schools are incapable of providing them with the intensity of instruction that they really need. Many of them are getting something, not enough but something, and taking them out of school now reduces that instruction and attention to virtually nothing,” he said.
Experts also said that the impact usually was seen with the "summer slide,” which describes the loss of learning students experience during the summer months. It could double if schools don't reopen until fall. Many studies have proven this claim. According to Newsweek, an online site that provides in-depth analysis, news and opinion about international issues, technology, business, culture and politics, a 2015 Northwest Evaluation Association study revealed that students going into the fourth grade loses 20% of their school-year gains in Reading and 27% in Math.
But, schools are trying their best to teach their students the best way they can. Some instructors are using existing platforms such as Microsoft and Google as well as conferencing apps like Zoom to deliver lessons for their pupils. Private sector companies in Japan are offering free online courses to children in lockdown through a government digital platform, allowing both students and parents to choose which one they study.
Educational Inequality During a Crisis
While different platforms through the help of technology are available to many students, not everyone can have access to it. Online learning, for instance, requires students to get online in the first place, which isn’t possible for many families. While this doesn't seem like a problem in a more affluent community, lots of urban and rural areas across the world have no internet access.
“As more schools close, we must pay special attention to the most vulnerable, not just physically, but also academically and psychologically. All responses must be designed to avoid deepening educational and social inequality,” Tracey Burns from the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills said.
Remote learning strategies can be effective in developed countries that are better prepared to move to online learning strategies, although it will require a lot of effort and challenges for teachers and parents. But for middle-income and poorer countries, vast inequality of opportunities still exist. Many students don’t have educational materials, internet connectivity, a laptop at home, or supportive parents. In Ghana, for instance, less than half of the population is believed to have mobile phone internet access.
While the Ghana Education Service has provided “an online study platform” for students who have devices and internet access, it leaves out a large number of students who lack access to these technologies. According to Aljazeera, an English language website for Aljazeera Magazine, those who have little to no access to digital tools will find themselves stuck at the periphery of the educational system while their more privileged colleagues continue to learn. Situations like this show it is important to consider how the most marginalized will be affected by moving education online.
Access to devices and the internet isn't the only problem. There’s also the issue of physical space. According to Vox, a liberal-leaning American news and opinion website owned by Vox Media, many lower-income students don’t have their own room or space to do homework or watch lectures. In New York City, for example, 1 in 10 public school students live in a shelter or other temporary housing. These students have much poorer outcomes than students who are permanently housed.
Raysa Rodriguez, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the Citizens’ Committee for Children, said that they are “deeply troubled about their educational trajectory and the possibility of a significant amount of learning loss in the next coming weeks.” “Housing instability comes with a significant amount of trauma and schools play an important role in building resilience for children,” she said.
The current crisis has definitely revealed profound disparities in children’s access to support and opportunities. When thinking of a solution for students, schools need to consider that kids come from very different backgrounds and have very different resources, opportunities, and support outside of school. According to The Harvard Gazette, an online site that covers innovation in teaching, learning, and research, while the most advantaged are most likely to survive the crisis without losing too much ground, the most economically challenged in our society will be the most vulnerable.
Paul Reville, a former secretary of education for Massachusetts, said that this issue of educational inequality should be an opportunity to end the “one size fits all” factory model of education. “And in this situation, we don’t simply want to frantically struggle to restore the status quo because the status quo wasn’t operating at an effective level and certainly wasn’t serving all of our children fairly,” he said.