Image obtained from here
Distance Learning, Remote Learning, eLearning, no matter what you call it or how you package it, is not working. Here's the thing, it never had a chance in the first place. When the decision to shut down in-person schooling swept the Country, even the World, educators, and support staff across the Educational spectrum had to make significant adjustments. In far too many of these cases, the changes had to be implemented within just a few days. Who would have planned for a pandemic of this magnitude, let alone included something this catastrophic in their strategic plan? The problem is, no amount of planning or preparation would have shielded a significant percentage of students in schools without looking at the systemic structures in the first place. It has been seen, written, and experienced that this entire situation we are managing has revealed the deep enduring wound covered by the comfort of complacency, platitudes, and diversionary rhetoric so often prevalent in education.
Image source unknown
This entire situation is affecting so many people in so many different ways. Yes, we get the stories of how some kids are thriving during remote learning or how some educators have managed to remain closely connected with their students. There are many lessons to be learned through these examples, but they do not account for the majority. In fact, in education, we tend to highlight and celebrate the outliers while conveniently ignoring the most vulnerable, the marginalized.
As recently as 2018, a research study showed that nearly 1 in 5 students could not complete their homework due to the digital divide (Another post coming soon on homework). While I am not a fan of big data, primarily in how it's used, the numbers show an even bleaker picture. The figures show how inequitable access is when fewer than half the students in some schools are participating online or just as bad when 55,000 students have little to no contact with their teachers. How many of these students are actually "essential workers" and are forced to choose between working to support their homes or go online and do school work, if they have access? How many of those with access must share devices, connectivity, a "quiet" space, or a hotspot with siblings that also are attempting to connect with their teachers? How many students, in general, need additional supports and resources via their 504 plan or IEP? How are those needs met? How will 3.7 million socioeconomically disadvantaged students, 721,000 students with disabilities, 195,000 homeless students, and other subgroups be appropriately and responsively serviced during this time? Note: if all of this is alarming to you, okay, it should be. Reminder, this is not new data, but this is my attempt to humanize big data.
Another one of my many concerns about this entire situation is the lack of perspective on the experiences of those that have been othered (If you don't understand it, then you probably have not experienced it). Let's say connectivity is not a barrier, and your students do have access. Then there is this brilliantly written piece by Dr. Taharee Jackson around video classism and bias that is a worthwhile read. Another area to consider is how cultural identity plays a significant role in the ways students who do have access connect? I also am seeing more and more posts in which students, parents, and educators are expressing their frustrations with what they are tasked with managing. While this video here went viral, it certainly does encapsulate the feelings of quite a few parents.
This post by Christina Torres What a Global Pandemic Reveals About Inequity In Education and this one by Thomas Rademacher Distance Learning, and also I Hope We Don’t All Die From This both provide perspectives on what actual classroom teachers are navigating right now.
It was never realistic to expect teachers and students to navigate this shift without obstacles and glitches, if at all. Part of my Masters Degree is in Instructional Design and I had to take a full year of classes around different methodologies for instruction this graph briefly outlines the differences
Does not require
Does not require
Until we genuinely address the digital divide, which means, among many things, designating the internet as a utility, these disparities will endure for another generation. Please consider signing this petition here regarding internet access. Without access, there is no opportunity. Without opportunity, all existing "gaps" will persist or, even worse, become permanent. This is a time where I hope all educators will default to support the base human needs of their students and themselves. The likelihood of any meaningful learning taking place right now varies depending on the access and environment a student is in. I know many are concerned about grades, they don't matter and shouldn't anyway (more on this later). Going forward, we must collectively reject the false narratives around equity being a buzzword or treated as an afterthought. We must support each other in demanding a new, more equitable structure to replace the current one because as it crumbles, it is far too easy to identify who will likely be buried under the rubble.