Professor Kristina Llewellyn discusses the issues around equity in access to education that this sudden shift to online home learning has revealed more clearly than ever before.

What does physical distancing mean for equity in education?

The requirements for at-home learning exacerbate long-standing inequities in education. Families have different access to material resources. While school boards are attempting to distribute devices for technology-dependent instruction, many families have no or unstable access to Wi-Fi. Given that 15% of children live in poverty in Ontario, some students will not even have access to pencils and papers or books.

At-home learning further compounds the challenges faced by students with special learning needs as a result of disabilities or multi-languages. These students require adaptable approaches that are usually provided with a team of educators that build face-to-face relationships with students and their families. COVID-19 is not the great equalizer when it comes to education.

How do you think physical distancing is changing the work of teachers?

Teaching is collective work that includes educational assistants, school counsellors, librarians, curriculum developers, and so many more people. In some provinces, teams of education workers are making incredible efforts to respond to Ministry of Education requirements for remote instruction. In Alberta, education workers, from educational assistants to librarians, have been laid-off during the pandemic. Teachers are left to quickly learn new online platforms and develop lessons that address the diverse needs of learners and their families.

The pandemic has illustrated for most people the incredible work that education workers do daily for students. Teachers need to continue to prioritize social connections with students, instead of content, despite the physical distance. The collective and relationship-based work required for teaching needs the full support of governments now and post-pandemic.

Should parents or caregivers be worried about their child’s grade this year?

School boards in Ontario have informed families that final grades will not go down from those assigned prior to school closures. It is still understandable that parents and caregivers are worried about their children’s grades. The Learn at Home program still requires report cards in June for each student. Traditional report cards for all but those graduating students should be waived given the exacerbated inequities of learning at home, including the unprecedented stress on families and teachers. Minister Lecce has asserted that remote instruction will be successful if students are disciplined and committed to their academic achievement. This is just not the case. Education, like the province, is in a state of emergency. This emergency highlights the need for a new way forward that removes traditional barriers for learning and prioritizes equity in education.

The University of Waterloo has a number of experts available for comment on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here to see the up-to-date list.

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