During the current COVID-19 global pandemic, the digital divide between those who can and cannot afford the technological resources that greatly separate their potential feels wider now more than ever before. Devices such as tablets, laptops, mobile phones, and WiFi and Internet services are all resources that are vital to keep people connected in our digital world of today where we are all physically separated. These resources, however, are extremely expensive and as BBC reports, only 47% of people living on low income have access to broadband Internet at home. Library lockdowns further force students to have to complete long-term research and assignments on their small mobile devices if they cannot afford laptops and adequate writing devices, further forcing limits on their performance. For families who have to share the same devices, it has been extremely difficult to navigate and absorb information on mobile devices and balance their screen time with their other family members.
Firstly, the most immediate impact of the pandemic on education has been students’ lack of accessibility to the Internet and its effects on their ability to participate in remote learning. Many students have feared the rush of adult responsibilities and stress that comes with the financial burdens that the pandemic has placed on multiple families through unemployment and illness. Without adequate technology, this creates a digital divide between those with access and resources and those who are entrapped in poverty and cannot afford the right tools to continue their education as successfully as their peers.
Many students and teachers have recounted and spoken up about their personal challenges and their unique perspectives as those who are directly affected by remote learning. These challenges include weakened relationships with peers, feelings of isolation or lack of human connection, loss of motivation, distractions to learning due to family situations, and heightened mental health issues. Socio-economic status has also played a large role in teaching and learning disparities in different regions. In higher income areas, reports have shown that there are higher percentages of teachers still teaching during the pandemic, but in lower-income schools, significant truancy is high in schools experiencing high poverty. Almost ⅓ of students are not logging on or making contact with their remaining teachers in these schools. Furthermore, geographic regions play a role in the reach of remote learning where rural schools face challenges of poor connectivity, limited staff, and varying technical expertise and are left to solve these issues on their own.
Overall, COVID-19 has brought numerous unprecedented challenges to remote learning, whether these be through tangible barriers such as lack of Internet and adequate technological devices or through transformations affecting people’s personal wellbeing and relationships with others as a whole. Ultimately, as ATD Fourth World in the UK states, the “…current crisis really highlights how easy it is to be excluded from the torrent of vital, well intentioned, but largely inaccessible help.”
Explore the following sources from this blogpost and further links on the impacts of COVID-19 on education and remote learning: