Photo Credits: Kiyomi Watson / Aggie
Educators examine how the pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities, especially for students of color
On Dec. 18, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) announced in an email that it will spend January discussing a plan for reopening under a hybrid model. Small groups of students are already learning on campus, but the majority of DJUSD students are still learning virtually.
DJUSD Director of Secondary Education and Leadership Troy Allen explained via email that distance learning has been difficult for students, especially by impacting how they communicate with their peers and mentors.
“The challenge that students speak about most are the barriers that exist to relationships and casual interactions,” Allen said via email. “Relationships, between peers and with teachers and staff, are what characterize school for most students and many are feeling that loss; this makes engaging in content harder for students.”
The challenges of virtual learning have also raised awareness about whether educational systems in the U.S. are equitable both during the pandemic and otherwise, according to Sacramento State Professor of Education Dr. Margarita Berta-Avila.
“Educational inequities have always existed,” Berta-Avila said. “COVID-19 has brought them to light, but this is not a new concern.”
Black Parallel School Board Operation Director Carl Pinkston defined educational equity and its relationship to social justice.
“Educational equity is that the educational outcome is the same for all students, but it is not that all students receive equal resources,” Pinkston said. “One part [of educational equity] is educational justice, which is addressing all the harm that has been created as a result of racial capitalism and the history of inequities around the educational system.”
Berta-Avila described how economic hardships brought by the pandemic, coinciding with virtual learning, results in students with parents working from home having more support than their peers whose parents are working in person.
“Schools are providing computers and different ways for people to do distance learning, but not everybody has the same support at home,” Berta-Avila said. “There are parents who have to work to make sure they have food on the table and that they can pay the bills for their children. Some children have to navigate their way through schooling without the support that some other children might have with their parents being able to work from home.”
Faye Wilson Kennedy, the Sacramento Poor People’s campaign lead organizer, the Sacramento Black Caucus immediate past chair and a former educator, noted that with or without the pandemic, students of color are most impacted by educational inequities.
“We have an educational system that is not designed for poor children, not designed for kids of color and specifically not designed for Black kids,” Wilson Kennedy said. “The majority of people who are impacted by COVID-19 nationally and in Sacramento are people of color.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Pinkston described how the achievement gap has already existed for students of color in the Sacramento Unified School District, but the increased importance of technology has put already-vulnerable students at more of a disadvantage.
“Prior to the pandemic, the quality of education in the Sacramento Unified School District was poor,” Pinkston said. “They were never going to close the achievement gap. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in terms of access to technology. Since everyone had to go into remote learning, not all students—particularly Black students—had access to the Internet, and many of them didn’t have Chromebooks.”
Pinkston continued to explain that when students don’t have access to adequate technology, it becomes impossible for them to turn in their schoolwork and get good grades.
“Because many Black students are low-income, they don’t have the quality resources in terms of technology, so they’re not able to upload their assignments,” Pinkston said. “Many of these students are actually failing—there’s an explosion of students receiving Fs.”
Berta-Avila explained that it’s important to strive for educational equity because it will give all students the ability to succeed and to improve society as a whole.
“Our youth are our future,” Berta-Avila said. “We want schools to be the venue in which we foster an opportunity for students to become critical thinkers, to become conscientious of themselves and of one another and to be able to recognize their role in creating a better society.”
Written by: Eden Winniford — email@example.com