A staggering 1 billion children around the world are now at home instead of school, and will remain there until the danger of coronavirus gets under control. Students were forced to swap blackboards for Zoom, much to the dismay of parents now compelled to step in as surrogate teachers. The internet is flooded with homeschooling frustration and humor like this prayer of a desperate mother.
Moving the world’s students online has starkly exposed deep inequities in the education system.
This pandemic has brought to the forefront the shocking number of children who rely on school for food and a safe environment. And remote learning has completely cut off kids from learning if they do not have computers or reliable internet connections.
According to OECD data, over 95% of students reported having a computer to use for their work in Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, while only 34% in Indonesia did. In the US, while almost every 15 year old from a higher socio-economic background said they had a computer for schooling, nearly a quarter of children from disadvantaged backgrounds did not.
And with the staggering job losses and recession that is devastating the most marginalized in every society, these disparities will become even greater . Who loses out? Our kids.
Schools face a difficult choice: If they don’t teach remotely, all their students miss out on months of curriculum. If they do, a sizable group of already disadvantaged students are left out and will fall even farther behind.
And the gap between students isn’t limited to internet access; it’s also about the access of parents. “If you are called to duty right now as a nurse or delivery person, you have no time for homeschool,” says Heather Emerson, managing director for IDEO’s design for learning group. And not every parent has the level of digital literacy necessary to help their kids shift to online learning either.
Our current situation reminds us of how critical schools are—not just as a place of learning, but of socialization, equalization, care and coaching, community and shared space. These are not things where tech can fill the void.
There is a silver lining
For many children, this is the first time in their lives they haven’t been schooled in a formal institution or tied to someone else’s schedule. Kids thrive with some routine, but their schedule doesn’t have to look like a grid of hours mapped out for the day, week, or month ahead.
Whether you plan a whole curriculum now, give in to increased screen time, or a mixture of the two, the lessons children are learning today—about coping, about resilience, about finding workarounds and trusted sources of information, and about both leaning on and helping their families through a difficult time—will stay with them during their lives.
I learned when I wasn’t “learning”
For many kids, missing months of school will be the opposite of a void—it’s an opportunity. Some have argued we’re preparing students for the future of work all wrong. We’re worried that human jobs will be replaced by robots, but we’re still teaching kids to think like machines.
Pre-pandemic, kids were so overbooked with activities and homework there was less family time to teach the importance of qualities that are less emphasized in school: creativity, empathy, and resilience. Our educational systems often give little space to the kinds of activities that might actually help children develop these skills.
Instead of stressing over homework and math problems, your job right now as a homeschooling parent is less about academics, and more about creating safety, belonging, and acceptance. And we can use this school-at-home time to teach our children qualities that schools often can’t: imagination, creativity, kindness, curiosity, problem solving and collaboration.
We have new appreciation for teachers as superheroes
Virtual learning was rolled out overnight, with no training, and often insufficient bandwidth. That leaves many of us with a sour taste about the whole experience.
Simultaneously, we’ve seen some incredible stories about teachers who’ve creatively gone above and beyond to stay connected to and help their students—while still abiding by social distancing rules.
Highlights of The Week: The Actions of Teachers
Our kids and young people may have a harder time making sense of everything right now. This first grade teacher made a video for her students reassuring them that while they may be feeling scared or worried right now, they should also be proud of how they’re putting their community first.
Literally going the extra mile
While school closures are leaving millions of food insecure children across the globe at risk, this teacher in England is walking five miles, everyday, to deliver meals to nearly 100 students who might otherwise go without.
Bottom line: Our teachers enrich students’ lives far beyond what is required by school systems.
We need to reward them and fairly compensate them! The pandemic has awakened our understanding about the challenges of teaching. Let’s close another equity gap and raise teachers’ salaries.
Voices in unison—after one day of homeschooling in the US, Twitter was rampant with calls for teachers to be paid more than investment bankers.
Real change takes place as a result of deep crisis. Let’s hope that when the pandemic storm passes, our education system will revolutionize, learning from this experience.
Challenge of the Week
Keep appreciating people who are showing up as our superheroes: healthcare workers, frontline essential workers, and yes, teachers! This week, send a note of thanks.
Send us favorite stories of homeschooling and superhero teachers. Whether big or small, we’d love to feature your stories, videos and photos here.
Executive Director, JustGive.org