EducationStacy M. Brown

The Challenges Black America Face with Distance and Virtual Learning During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is now claiming more than 3,000 lives per day.

Businesses are suffering, and schools are again going all-virtual and posing more challenges to minorities than ever before.

The challenges are particularly pronounced in the African American community, where access to the internet, working parents and a haphazard learning model have undermined pre-pandemic gains.

“The digital divide doubly impacts these students, as it completely stops our tutoring with almost all of our school partners,” said Richard Kaplan, the executive director of IvyTutorsNetwork.com, a New York City Department of Education-approved vendor that teaches students in multiple underserved public and charter schools in the Bronx, Harlem, and Bedford Stuyvesant.

“For some, fully remote actually means they might as well be in Tahiti or Timbuktu, inaccessible to effective teaching and all but forgotten,” Kaplan said.

The distance learning scheme or the online classes method of teaching are good strategies in reducing physical contact and helps limit the spread of the virus, asserted Lewis Keegan, owner and operator of SkillScouter.com, which aims to help potential students find their learning paths via online learning platforms.

“However, the solution might not be as inclusive, especially for people of color in other parts of the world,” Keegan observed.

“This is because not everyone is privileged for such amenities. Some areas across the globe are still not introduced to the concept of the internet,” he said.

Keegan continued:

“Aside from this, having devices such as laptops and phones for learning are not cheap and easily accessible. Because of this, more practical options are chosen by parents like spending their money in food and sustenance, rather than education.”

As the pandemic shuts most people in for what promises to be a long, cold and socially distant winter, families are suffering, offered Dr. Karen Aronian of Aronian Education Design LLC.

“Without a doubt, people of color are our most vulnerable populations. Special needs education students in isolated rural communities, those who are homeless, and food insecure, are in dire education straits,” Aronian stated.

She noted that some reports have revealed that the pandemic has forced students to lose as much as 50 percent of their academic growth in math, at least 30 percent of their proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) and perhaps a full school year of academic growth in some cases.

“Strain, struggle and hardship abound in communities of color, which carries over into family life and lack of hope,” Aronian continued.

“Children’s education becomes secondary to the basic needs of a home and family. The traditional in-person school has been, for many children, a respite from home life, family problems, and dysfunction. Without school, education has fallen off the radar in homes where survival is first, and education is a much lower rung during COVID times.”

The pandemic has especially been tough on marginalized communities, including those with special needs, added Lisa Lightner, of A Day in Our Shoes, an organization that advocates on behalf of special education.

“I have been chatting with all kinds of families, including Black and brown families. Here is some of what I’m seeing. The challenges that these families are facing aren’t necessarily due to their skin color – but because their skin color makes them much more likely to be in another category of marginalization,” Lightner proclaimed.

According to a recent Duke University panel at the school’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, many Black and brown individuals face challenges that affect their and educators’ ability to resume in-person education safely.

Further, Education Week reported that in-person learning yields superior educational outcomes for primary and secondary students — and that the pitfalls of virtual instruction are especially pronounced in minority communities and those living in poverty.3

School districts around the country that are strapped for cash have found it increasingly challenging to tackle the learning barriers minority students disproportionately have experienced during the pandemic.

“The reality is in many economically distressed counties, over 60 percent of families don’t have reliable internet access, and that disproportionately affects students of color. In one of my counties, over 70 percent do not,” said Alex Beene, an adult and high school teacher in Tennessee.

“And while I try to supplement those households with additional packets and materials, it’s just not the same. It’s impossible to attend daily classes and submit assignments digitally if you can’t even connect to join the conversation,” Beene remarked.

“Many families of color also lack adequate nutrition and a culture of learning in the home. When schools are closed down, not having access to school lunches or educators that motivate students to go higher academically can have lasting effects that will stretch on long after the pandemic.”

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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