It Is Not Just Having No Internet Access

We already know that a home that is better equipped with both resources and information contributes to academic achievement gaps based on socio-economic status (Chmielewski, 2019, The Global Increase in the Socioeconomic Achievement Gap, 1964 to 2015. American Sociological Review, 84(3), 517–544.). The gap arises not just because of tangible resources such as access to technology but also from intangible factors such as time and environment. On top of these, a parent's education is a significant factor and even with a parent who has a college education, that parent may not be available. Thus, simply providing laptops and internet access may not be enough to ensure equity in distance learning. Achievement gaps are problematic since these lead to bigger challenges for instruction inside a classroom when children return to normal schooling.

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With COVID-19, the Philippines faces a daunting task with the new school year. A government agency in the country has recently recommended to move the start of the new school year to the end of September.

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Distance learning is certainly not a good solution as it will only exacerbate achievement gaps between the rich and the poor.

When I was growing up, I remember missing school for a couple of months. There was widespread flooding in the Philippines when I was in second grade. Obviously, there was no internet yet at that time, so there was never an option for distance learning. But we seemed to have managed.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Data-Driven Innovation Lab is optimistic with regard to COVID-19. The following is their current projection.

If this projection is on the mark, then there is less worry for the coming school year. If it is not, then schools must discover ways of providing not just access to technology, but also the other missing pieces necessary for distance learning: time, environment and feedback. Schools in some countries have already opened. The BBC has compiled possible measures that can be taken:

How would this work in schools?

  • Limits could be put on class sizes
  • A few year groups or pupils could take turns between studying at school and at home
  • Some children could work one week and others the next
  • Some pupils could work in the morning, others in the afternoons
  • Classrooms could be redesigned to ensure social distancing
  • Pupils could take their breaks at different times

In all of the above, the common denominator is social distancing. We can probably make this more equitable by providing classrooms and teachers only to those who cannot possibly learn at home.