By: Emma Jaeger
Mid-way through 2020, the traditional classroom setting has been replaced with online education, or E-learning. With schools in over 160 countries closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of kids are adapting to E-learning (Strauss 2020). As both teachers and students rapidly adapt to e-learning, challenges arise, one being: how do students in less than ideal home environments maintain their academic development?
In the United States as of 2016, the census estimates that roughly 13% of the population were experiencing economic poverty, meaning that they lived below the statistically defined poverty line which is calculated based on income per person in a household (Finley). Currently in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the officially reported unemployment rate has risen to an astonishing 14.7%, from under 4% in January, and the true unemployment rate may be even greater than the official report due to potentially incorrect classifications made in April (Ziv 2020).
With a significant portion of Americans below the poverty line, students lack access to wifi and electronic devices or may share devices with siblings or parents who also need access to electronics to learn/work from home. Children in low income households are clearly disproportionately affected by the sudden switch over to e-learning, but the question that many leaders are asking is, qualitatively to what extent are students disengaged from their learning due to lack of access, and truly, how deep is the digital divide in the United States? The Boston globe newspaper recently reached out to Boston school districts to assess the extent to which the technological divide is affecting online learning. Boston public school system representatives reportedly found that “the average daily attendance of remote learning was 83 percent. To date, the school system has handed out 31,379 Chromebooks and more than 2,600 Wi-Fi hotspots” (BG 2020). With 17% of students apparently unable to consistently attend classes, there seems to be a significant demand for resources. However, school officials are having a hard time pinpointing and fulfilling the needs of the specific students who lack access. The Boston public school leadership has sent out a multilingual survey to Boston families, yet has only received a 45% response rate (BG 2020). Higher survey engagement and resource funding is necessary to bridge the technological divide in public school districts across the United States in order to distribute resources to support students.
In a single parent household where there has been a divorce, death or incarceration of one parent, there are difficulties faced as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, single parents who are unable to work from home must either risk their health during the pandemic or face unemployment and financial strain. In single parent households, where the parents are currently employed outside the home, the availability of childcare resources becomes an issue as well. Single parents are unfortunately being forced to help their children less academically and “settle for less academics” (Garvey 2020), as other essential tasks take priority. In these circumstances single parents need increased support from the government. Parents would benefit from specialized financial support under the Care Act and increased access to safe, local government subsidized, community-based childcare options.
Another concern is the potential for decreased interventions from educators in child abuse cases. In the past, homeschooling has been known to hide childhood abuse. Though there is insignificant data concerning whether or not there are increased incidences of abuse in homeschooling situations, education researcher and writer Arianna Prothero indicated that in homeschool environments, “there are fewer safeguards to catch (abuse and neglect). It's less likely to be identified and less likely to be stopped” (Prothero 2018). There is the potential for increased cases of abuse during this e-learning situation without children leaving the home and the presence of educators as mandatory reporters of signs of violence.
Children learning online who live in low income, single parent or households where abuse takes place need increased support. Wifi and electronic resources need to be allocated to children on a larger scale in order to increase e-learning attendance, single parents need to be supported financially and by their local communities in order to allow their children to continue to focus on education, and educators, though very strained and also struggling to adapt to e-learning, should stay vigilant for signs of abuse among their students.
BG. “How Well Is Remote Learning Working in Boston Schools?” The Boston Globe, ProQuest Information and Learning, 17 May 2020.
Finley, Laura. “Poverty.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018.
Garey, Juliann. “Single Parenting During the Coronavirus Crisis.” Child Mind Institute, 7 May 2020, childmind.org/article/single-parenting-during-the-coronavirus-crisis/.