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Consequences of At-Home Learning during COVID

Though the final months of the 2019–2020 academic year were spent teaching and learning through a screen, many parents, students, and educators remain unprepared to complete the fall semester virtually. As remote learning continues in the current school year, the strain and struggle of adapting to this mode of instruction have only grown for children of color, families who are financially insecure, and those without access to technology and connectivity. Many of these students also lack access to innovative learning options such as learning pods and are unable to hire tutors.

Parents have had to adjust to and embrace the challenge of serving as their child’s teacher. After a few months of practice, families are coming up with ways to mimic the classroom environment at home. Some parents have gone as far as physically replicating the social environment their children were accustomed to in school by creating learning pods, or “pandemic pods,” at home.

Learning pods are based on the hypothesis that some students, especially elementary school students, have an easier time focusing when instruction is in person. These pods consist of small groups of between 3 and 10 children. The learning pod movement started via a Facebook group in San Francisco. In just a few weeks, the group grew to almost 40,000 members.

While the learning pod movement started with the best of intentions, this new approach threatens community balance. Many of the 56.6 million students in grades K–12 in the United States will not have access to a learning pod, which could create new social and economic divides in communities.

In many cases, the students who are not part of a learning pod are not equipped for at-home learning. As was illuminated last spring, there are big discrepancies between students of varying economic classes, with minority students being affected the most. Millions of students lack access to basic necessities for learning including computers, Wi-Fi, support services, and meals. And, when COVID hit, the libraries, community centers, and other means for getting connected to learn outside of school were also disrupted.

Although school districts have been scrambling to set students up for remote learning, as we started the current school year, 15 to 16 million students lacked both adequate internet and devices needed to effectively engage in remote learning. Before COVID hit, almost half (44%) of students did not have a device to use for at-home learning and one in four students had unreliable internet access. Among Black and Latino students, roughly a quarter are “smartphone only” internet users because they lack traditional home broadband services, compared to 12% of Whites. This digital divide, especially apparent in Black and Latino households, is growing.

Lack of access to devices and reliable, robust internet to support at-home learning is furthering the learning gap between BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) students and their White classmates. It’s an education problem, a civil rights problem, and an economic problem. Fifty-nine percent of parents have expressed concern that not having access to digital resources is a huge obstacle and will impede their child’s ability to keep up with schoolwork. Without access to education, studies have shown that skill and wage gaps only widen, and students with greater access will benefit exponentially.

This problem reaches further than the quality of education for students. Parents depend on schools for not only services like after-school programs and tutoring, but also to provide a safe place for their children while they work. For parents who can afford private tutoring, or who live in a community where joining a learning pod is an option, they will have a little reprieve and will be able to work with fewer concerns about their child’s education. Unfortunately, the parents whose children may need a tutor or would benefit from additional support are often the ones who cannot afford it. The economic and racial divides are real and threatening to grow due to the limitations of remote learning, unequal access to learning pods, and disrupted schooling for students, especially students of color.

We continually work with our clients to create more opportunities, especially for students who may not have as many resources. As part of our commitment to improving the lives of students, we will continue to help raise awareness about the social and economic inequalities in education. MMS Education is here to help organizations connect and engage with educators. We invite you to reach out to learn more about how we are helping our clients address the evolving needs of students and educators.

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