With debates about masks and uncertainties about the coronavirus’ impact inundating the news and the number of confirmed cases of the virus only going up in many states, the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately continues its overwhelming presence in the United States. However, as the summer moves along and the school year rapidly approaches, the issue of education may no longer take a backseat.
In certain parts of the world, this timeline is not met with any deliberations or arguments, as the pandemic has been quelled or nearly eradicated from some regions, such as New Zealand. In the US, though, the situation is much more complex. For starters, many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, the head of the Center for Disease Control, and Dr. Anthony Fauci (the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) are calling for schools to be reopened, all citing the crucial developmental and social skills children gain in a classroom setting. On the other hand, teachers themselves, as well as many parents and students, find reopening schools akin to ushering in an entirely catastrophic chain of infection, as the risk for spreading the virus may increase when students are all in one building, no matter what precautions are taken. This prediction has been proven to be true, as the schools which have already reopened, such as ones in North Carolina and Indiana, have reported more cases after in-school learning ensued.
The other option, online learning, seems to be favored by many families, as it is the least risky one. However, online learning exposes numerous inequalities in the American schooling system. Many students, especially low-income ones, do not have sufficient Internet access or devices needed to have a fulfilling educational experience, which could, in theory, hinder the student from reaching their academic and subsequent professional goals. In fact, 8.6 million students across the country do not have access to Internet, let alone anyone who is able to assist them with technology.
Furthermore, the issue is even more glaring when it comes to young students, especially those in elementary school. These students, who are likely used to a teacher who constantly engages with them, no doubt need the assistance of an adult during their online school day. This assistance takes various shapes and can be present in the form of technological help, emotional support and encouragement, and physical engagement, which could replace the recesses and breaks the child would normally partake in. Some families have been able to afford a safe solution—a private teacher. In some instances, these teachers teach only one family, while others are teaching small groups of children, the groups being christened “pods.” These pods and one-on-one teachers are no small cost, with one family paying $2,800 a month to ensure that their children do not fall behind. Obviously, this investment is not something every parent is able to make, and many of those who cannot are also unable to stay home with their child as they work. Some in this circumstance have expressed their guilt and despair about their child’s situation, and students themselves have expressed fear over falling behind in their goals.
Some parents have had to create their own solutions, with one single mother (who was unable to take time off from her job as an essential worker) setting up a small camera to monitor her son’s online learning and to make sure he was doing well.
Although parents are certainly doing the best that they can, the fact remains that the education gap between those with resources and those without will grow in this pandemic. It seems that the only unanimously beneficial solution is to actively curb the spread of the pandemic so students may return to getting the education they deserve while simultaneously staying healthy and not exposing themselves to risk. In the meantime, it is crucial that the education gap is addressed, because it is the education of students that allows them to succeed and thrive, to have the same opportunities that their peers with more privilege have, and to make their lives and the lives of others better.