Understandably education has been disrupted as the government closed schools as a result of the pandemic. Technology is an essential tool for the learning of millions of children, but is education for all becoming education for those that can afford it?
My main focus will be the impact of using technology as the primary source of learning.
Before the coronavirus pandemic the education gap between wealthy and poorer pupils already existed, one reason being technology. For example maths homework is given on MyMaths which is an online website, and children without access could be left behind. This may be because they are unable to access the work or given paper homework which is different to the online work; they may have no one at home to explain and support them in completing the work. Technology is a great contribution to education with it becoming more popular in working environments. Learning the way around the internet and computers are a given and this is why ICT is very important for the national curriculum.
Virtual classrooms are online chat spaces in which you can see, talk and listen to the teacher and peers. However, to access these types of classrooms you need the internet with a computer or tablet. This provides an opportunity for the learning gap to grow, and children to be left behind academically.
There are many barriers for poorer pupils to overcome compared to wealthy pupils.
- Lack of internet
- Lack of technology
- Lack of space
- Being a young carer
- Single parent
- Working class family (key-workers)
- Lack of food
- Lack of money
These are some of the factors that can impact a child’s learning. However, not having access to technology is the main obstacle. Children who cannot access the online classrooms also rely on parents having the ability, time and desire to help them understand what they need to do. With many low income families having lower educational levels, therefore, this is another barrier to learning. Again reinforcing the gap in education. Children from the most deprived backgrounds have been let down.
The children in the most deprived schools are all behind in their expected learning. 82% of schools from lower economic areas are three to six months behind, whereas only 42% from wealthy areas are that behind. This is evidence that virtual learning has different outcomes for wealthy children. Even the children that do have access to technology, may have siblings that also need access to virtual learning and have to share the tools to be able to learn. This can impact their education as they have less time to access the lessons.
It’s crazy to think that only a few months before the nationwide lockdown Jeremy Corbyn advocated for free and fast broadband for all. Many people said that this should be a luxury, but this would be a an important step to close certain inequalities for young children, making education during the pandemic a lot easier for many families.
The Department for Education requested laptops for those that do not have them, as a good way to help close the online learning gap and reduce inequality between children. This access to online learning would enable poorer children as much as their peers. The promise of laptops to disadvantaged children was important to overcome the difficulties faced, when in fact ‘some schools were told the number of laptops they were promised had been cut by 80% after the government allocation process changed’ (BBC, 2020). When laptops had been cut by 80% there were many children that would be going without, how can a school choose which students are more worthy of a better education?
When ‘60,000 children in the UK can’t access the internet at home, and 700,000 live in a house without any computer or tablet’ (Togetherband, 2020) this is evidence of inequality. Unequal access to virtual learning during coronavirus has had a negative impact on children’s education; many children will have missed out on how to read or learning their times-tables when everyone else is. These children will be academically disadvantaged as well as their wellbeing and confidence being affected, when they do return to the classroom. Coronavirus closed schools for three months, three months of missed learning for those children less privileged.
It is hard for the education gap not to grow as the majority of the children without internet, computers and tablets are among the poorest in the UK. This is not their fault and they shouldn’t be deemed less worthy of an education than children that are from families better off financially. Everyone should have the same quality education which is inclusive and caters to all needs regardless of wealth.
The education gap has grown drastically due to the reliance on technology for education during the pandemic. It is very clear that children who don’t have the tools to engage in online learning are being left behind, they are statistically months behind their wealthy peers. The promise to provide the less privileged with laptops to allow them to be on the same path as other children in the UK, then to remove that offer was damaging to their schooling. This offer was cut down while billionaires were granted millions as a bailout for their businesses. Hopefully there is more inclusive education when regarding technology and no one is left behind, especially if this is the new norm and blended learning is a must.
How can we ensure poorer families are kept in the loop?
Adams, R., 2020. Gap Between Rich And Poor Pupils In England ‘Grows By 46% In A Year’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/ education/2020/sep/01/disadvantaged-and-bame-pupils-lost-more-learning-study-finds> [Accessed 5 November 2020].
BBC News. 2020. Covid: Laptop Allocation For Deprived Pupils Cut At Some Schools. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-54675620> [Accessed 7 November 2020].
Togetherband. 2020. Why COVID-19 Will Widen The Education Gap. [online] Available at: <https://togetherband.org/blogs/news/why-covid-19-will-widen-the-education-gap> [Accessed 5 November 2020].