The Challenge Of Remote Schooling In Marginalized Communities
There’s no question that COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, especially now that remote schooling is considered normal schooling for so many. And while good news of vaccines provides a ray of hope for these dark times, we’re all still looking to find ways to endure and thrive in the weeks and months to come.
This is especially true for our children. As we all adapt to this changed reality, it’s our kids who are bearing the brunt of the anxiety and uncertainty we’re all feeling right now. With a second surge of the virus underway and the winter flu season starting, school districts across the US are returning to remote learning formats — if they even opened at all this fall.
Another semester online is daunting for most, but for students and families in rural, working-class, and minority communities, the challenges are especially significant. This article explores the unique difficulties that marginalized communities face when it comes to remote learning, as well as the strategies districts across the US are using to overcome them.
What We're Covering
The Digital Divide
For some Americans, the idea of life without the internet seems unimaginable. For nearly 20% of the population, especially those living in rural areas, though, that is the reality.
The digital divide in America is real and enduring.
And for students without reliable internet access, it makes remote schooling and online learning virtually impossible. To cope, some families are forced to travel to local “hotspots” for internet access. Some have to park outside of wi-fi enabled school buses provided by their school districts.But even where public and school-provided broadband access is available, it’s a less-than-ideal solution for working families to have to scramble to find an access point in the middle of a global pandemic. Adding to the difficulty is that the same households that are without access are also not likely to be overflowing with the latest home technology. If there is a computer or tablet in the home, chances are good that the student has share it with their siblings, further reducing the amount of work and study that is done online.
But the challenges with this sudden shift to remote schooling aren’t just technological. The simple fact is that teaching online is a different beast than teaching on-ground. Few teachers are adequately prepared for remote teaching. That’s creating problems for even the best, hardest working, and most dedicated educators — and the students who depend on them.
When schools shut down in the spring, the urgency of the crisis necessitated a pretty much ad hoc, fly-by-the-seat of your pants approach, and it showed in the frustrations and large-scale failures of the spring 2020 semester. Students were inundated with a patchwork of materials, instructions, lessons, and lesson plans with no real cohesion across schools or school districts.
The only real commonality of this impromptu approach was an emphasis on self-learning, with necessarily minimal teacher intervention or direction amid the national lockdown. And while this method is actually most suited to distance learning, the lack of preparation caused failure of wide-scale proportions. The result was a loss of student confidence and engagement and immense frustration for parents watching their children struggle.
What’s Being Done
As we turn to another semester of online learning, though, promising solutions are being explored. The Oakland School District, for example, is just one of countless school districts across the US that is working hard to ensure that all students have access to broadband internet and the learning technologies they need right in their own homes.
This eliminates the need for working parents to have to arrange to spend hours away from home each week so their kids can access public wifi to work on their lessons. For families who may have suffered job loss or, worse, the loss of a family member in the COVID-era, the financial strain may be immense, especially for families who are uninsured or who are waiting on applications for survivor’s benefits. The ability of children to do their schoolwork from home allows parents to focus on their jobs. Receiving the ed tech the kids need for free means a lot less household expense in a tough time.
Tech Alone Isn't Enough
But it’s not enough simply to equip the kids with the tech they need for home-based learning. To make remote learning work, teachers, students, and parents alike have to adapt to a new model of education, one based on the premise of the “flipped classroom.” This is very much the “guide on the side” versus the “sage of the stage” approach to teaching, with educators harnessing the power of technology to help students take the lead in their own learning.
This is a highly personalized, student-focused, and technology-driven approach to teaching, but it’s an approach that can make remote learning truly extraordinary for students, parents, and teachers alike. And, increasingly, school districts are providing teachers with the training they need to put these remote teaching strategies to optimal use.
The pandemic has been difficult for us all. But for students in marginalized communities, the challenges have been especially great. As another semester of fully or partially remote schooling ramps up, however, students, parents, and teachers in proactive school districts like Oakland are better prepared than ever before to make the new school year the best it can be.