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We Need Equity for Online Learning to Work

BY: Amelia Kwan

Over the past decade, the use of technology in the classroom has skyrocketed - and so has the debate surrounding whether it’s a good idea. Should school work be completed and submitted entirely online? Should students have permission to use their phones in class? Are in-person lectures or instructional videos more effective?

Unfortunately, we did not have time to squabble over whether phones will help kids and class, or rot their brains and distract them. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a necessary shift to learning that is 100% online. With school work being constantly modified, exams cancelled, and teachers scrambling to keep up with the rapid changes, the education system is in pandemonium.

But there lies a far more urgent problem that comes with online learning: the lack of equal access to the internet or devices required to learn online. According to Pew Research Center, after analysing 2015 data from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • 15% of households with school-aged children do not have a reliable internet connection;

  • One in four teenagers whose family income is less than $30,000 do not have access to a computer; and

  • At least 17% of teens are sometimes or often unable to complete their homework due to a lack of internet or computer access.

In other words, there is a large proportion of students for whom online learning simply is not possible, or is incredibly difficult. Although many students might have access to cell phones or tablets completing school work might still be an unnecessary challenge.

Another issue is that there is a strong correlation between access to technology and household income. The resulting decline in education quality as a result of this for low-income households propagates the poverty cycle, as lack of education limits students’ futures and affects their socioeconomic status. Overall, this furthers the separation of middle to high-income households and low-income households.

This must change because education is a right, not a privilege. Quality of education absolutely cannot depend on whether a student’s family can afford a computer or not. As such, purpose in planning education should be centred around social justice and equity.

Creating an equitable framework for online learning prioritizes all students by acknowledging those impacted by educational inequality. This applies to students in rural areas, students without access to technology, and differently-abled students.

Several solutions have arisen from the debate on the ideal way to conduct online learning in an equitable manner: providing technology for those who cannot access it, making all instruction

asynchronous, and modifying teaching strategies to accommodate the realities of students and their families.

Synchronous and asynchronous teaching refers to whether the teacher and students are online at the same time for lessons or not. Synchronous teaching involves video conferences or live online lectures, while asynchronous involves posting material in advance and allowing students to complete it and learn on their own time. Asynchronous learning is ideal for an equitable education framework because it lessens the disadvantage for students with poor internet connection (i.e., they won’t miss live video conferences).

According to Ph.D. candidate Beyhan Farhadi, who has investigated the workings of e-learning and education:  

“In times of crisis, when authorities are in a constant state of catching up, we must be proactive. Share and learn from colleagues and solicit the support of your school team, which include administrators, educational assistants, teacher-librarians, special education specialists, guidance counselors, early childhood educators, child and youth workers, psychologists, social workers, and speech-language pathologists.”

After all, our students’ education is the future.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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