#WordInBlack: Pandemic magnifies education inequality for minority students

What about the children?

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Even with in-person learning, America’s education gap has been prevalent for far too long, putting minorities at a disadvantage. (Courtesy of unsplash)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

In the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I have a dream speech,” the celebrated civil rights leader and orator painted a picture of a utopian world where, “little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.” Semblances of King’s dream have been so successfully realized that young people of all races and creeds have joined hands in fighting against injustices in the past few years (March for Our Lives, Black justice protests of 2020, Voting Rights Movement). However, the major inequities in the education system paints a totally different picture that shows the fight for equality for Black people must continue.  

If Whitney’s Houston’s first line in “Greatest Love of All,” rings true, “I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way,” then young people must be prioritized as the hope and fate for the next iteration of Black American progress is in their hands. However, the major injustices in education magnified during the pandemic present a challenging educational road and future for young people who are denied the basic right to education.

Even with in-person learning, America’s education gap has been prevalent for too long and shows that Black, Brown and low-income students are most affected by the inequalities.  The resources provided for schools that have majority populations with students of color and in low-income areas are still not up to par with those offered in White and wealthier neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the inequalities run deeper than the very valid infrastructure and resource issues. The pandemic magnified the major challenges Black, Brown and low-income families face and the role school and education plays in their livelihoods.

“An inequitable lack of investment in our city’s public schools and families they serve were amplified and laid bare during the pandemic,” said Markus Batchelor, former Ward 8 representative and vice president of the District of Columbia State Board of Education. 

For some families, school is more than a place to learn. It’s a place that ensures at least two meals a day, provides a safe environment and brings solace to the otherwise overwhelmed child. Some students use school as a place to do computer assignments, research for papers and complete college applications. For certain people, school can be a lifeline. 

The pandemic magnified the major challenges students of color and low-income families face and the role that school and education plays in their livelihoods. (Courtesy Photo)

Taking the comfort of the physical building away not only provided concerns of childcare, education and friendship for some families.  While virtual learning was required, families that had little to no access to broadband Internet were suddenly robbed of their basic but necessary right to learn- a right to an education.

“Lack of quality healthcare and nutrition, limited access to technology and the Internet, and under-investment in social-emotional support all made life and learning disproportionately worse for students who are of color and/or experience poverty,” Batchelor said.

Let’s face it everybody had to adapt to virtual learning, but not everyone could.

The World Economic Forum estimated that more than 55 million children grades Kindergarten through 12 were removed out of in-person classrooms and expected to be present for virtual lessons.

However, a McKinsey and Company study found that about 40% of African American and 30% of Latinx students received no online instruction during the pandemic due to lack of access to the necessary technology, in comparison to 10% of White pupils. 

This racial gap is underscored by a major economic gap also ever present.  According to an Education Week survey, 64% of American teachers from low-income schools complained about students’ connectivity issues, while only 21% of educators from more affluent districts had those challenges.

The fact that not everyone has enough smartphones, laptops, tablets, computers or a booming broadband connection that can accommodate multiple devices is a reality.  Some people have no access to technology. 

The Federal Communications Commission estimates it would take up to  $40 billion to close the broadband gap in the United States.

No Internet, not enough WiFi, or no access to devices has limited a lot of young people in the past one and a half school years of virtual learning.

Some schools and  districts have provided tablets and laptops for families, which helps solve some device issues. However, without Internet access, those devices do little to no good in virtual learning scenarios.

The Education Trust reported that nine in ten parents are worried about their children falling behind and eight in ten said their children were experiencing more stress since the pandemic. 

With Black Americans already experiencing inequities in education, the nationwide numbers of students falling behind, indeed affects students of color as well.  To remix the old adage goes, when White schools get a cold, Black schools get the flu. 

Batchelor said the solution is a major intentional work within the communities.

“A bold injection of resources into these communities and policy- making focused on equity and the large range of issues that our families face is the only solution as we return to the classroom,” Batchelor explained.

“It means reimagining schools as not just places for high-quality instruction, but also the hub for resources families and communities need to thrive.  It’s the only way we can close huge and widening gaps.”

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