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There’s No Vaccine for the Covid Educational Crisis

José Antonio Tijerino

José Antonio Tijerino

President and CEO

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By mid-March, as most schools in America were closing down, the pandemic’s path of disruption was nearly complete, although it would worsen as the year went on.  The health and economic crisis were prioritized, but another crisis was cresting as we headed into summer and ever since – the educational crisis of 2020 … except there is no vaccine to solve it in 2021.

I believe the educational crisis will impact not only our youths’ current education and love of learning but will impact them for years to come including their momentum to enter the workforce.

And the digital divide, or what I call the TechEdquity Gap, has played and will play a consequential role as students become even more dependent on adequate wi-fi or devices, especially for Latinx, Black, Native, and rural students during the Covid-educational crisis.

Students now have to learn from home while teachers scramble to add IT to their capabilities and parents had to add being a teacher’s assistant to their duties while working from home. That is, if the parents were lucky enough to work from home during the worst pandemic in over 100 years. For example, five out of six Latinx aren’t able to work from home, creating a retrofitted, 21st Century “latchkey” kid except these kids aren’t coming home from school after being fed two meals and being taught – they are already at home, which is now school, and many are left to figure out how to get online to be able to simply learn … and many are not.

According to estimates by Bellwether Education Partners, up to 3 million students in the U.S. possibly haven’t attended zoom school since COVID-19 permeated every aspect of our lives, including our children’s education.  Pulling from news reports and federal data sources, the team of researchers predict that between 10 and 25 percent of students in the most marginalized populations have completely missed out on learning for the past nine months.

Black, Latinx, and Native students have dealt with bias and bigotry throughout their young lives from being most likely to be suspended to facing lower academic expectations and being least likely to have access to adequate wi-fi or a device, which have become vital to their basic education, and later, workforce development.   And now this …

We not only have to meet the moment, we need to collectively grab the moment.  This is not the time to be patient in addressing this critical issue.  We need a sense of urgency.  A tech triage if you will.

In my hometown of Washington, DC, “back-to-school” family surveys found that 60 percent of students lacked the devices and 27 percent lacked the high-speed internet access needed to successfully participate in virtual school.

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation did a national study which found that Latinx and Black students were most likely to say their grades suffered because of a lack of access to broadband. These students were also most likely to say they couldn’t finish their homework because of a lack of access to wi-fi, and they were most likely to use a smartphone to complete homework or fill out a college application.  One of the findings was that teachers said Latinx parents were most difficult to communicate with because of the parents’ lack of access to the internet for email communication.  It was NOT a language barrier.  It was an internet barrier.

Yes, teachers also seek better wi-fi and access to computers to be able to teach.  According to a RAND Corporation survey of teachers, 75 percent find “students’ lack of access to technological tools and students’ lack of access to high-speed internet” are serious obstacles to effective implementation of remote learning.

As parents, we need to be very concerned.  I remember being worried about the “summer slide” when students would lose about 25 percent of what they learned over the nearly two months of summer vacation.  That two months has turned into at least 10 months by the end of January and schools still aren’t consistently open. How much are they and other students losing during this pandemic?

Actually, Latinx students are at risk of falling about 10 months behind in their schoolwork and we are left with the question, how long will it take to come back from this gap?  What lasting implications will that have going forward in their educational career?  In their preparedness for the workforce?

The future of work is dependent on how quickly we can get everyone connected to broadband. If this digital gap persists, studies show it will have negative consequences with 76 percent of Blacks and 62 percent of Latinx being shut out or under-prepared for 86 percent of U.S. jobs by 2045.

And then you wonder why Black and Latinos are so dramatically underrepresented in tech jobs … yeah, mystery solved.

But now we need to solve the problem and not just the mystery.  And please get your head around that it’s not just a problem for the Black and Latinx community, it’s an American problem considering we make up nearly half of the K-12 population.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Covid-10-era findings on Internet & Technology, 43 percent of lower-income parents say it is very or somewhat likely their children will have to do schoolwork on their cellphones and 40 percent said the same likelihood of their child having to use public Wi-Fi to finish schoolwork because of lack of access to reliable internet connection at home. More than one out of three say it is somewhat likely their children will not be able to complete schoolwork because they do not have access to a computer at home.

Adan Gonzalez was a high school student in the rough Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas, TX, with dreams of going to college, being a boxer, and launching a national effort to support disenfranchised youth through education, empowerment, and networking.  At one time, Adan shared one bedroom with six others while his father worked long hours as a custodian and mother held odd jobs to help feed the family.  Unfortunately, there was no internet in his apartment or apartment complex, and too often no electricity.  To complete homework requiring online access, he would walk late at night, after sports practices, to a McDonalds or Starbucks and lean up against the building to catch enough of the sporadic wi-fi signals to finish his assignments on a borrowed laptop.  When he had to research and apply for colleges, he hit the streets in search of a signal that didn’t have a password attached to it.

Fortunately, Adan was able to hurdle the TechEdquity Gap and went to Georgetown University for undergrad, Harvard’s Graduate School for Education, and Columbia’s Teaching College and founded and runs the Puede Academy in his hometown where he educates hundreds of children.  Unfortunately, the children under his tutelage are facing the same issues he did when he was a kid, except with greater force because of the pandemic.  The gap has gotten bigger which Adan never would have imagined when he was dealing with it 10 years ago as a high school student.  His purpose in life is to make things better for the students he works with and then COVID-19 hit in addition to the other challenges they faced being immigrants and living in poverty.

Beyond education, at a time that our communities need to be mobilized for social impact, the TechEquity Gap is ominously looming. Think about it, a 15- year-old Black, Latinx or Native with access to a device and wi-fi can reach more people in a split second than Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Gandhi could in their iconic lifetimes combined.  That is unprecedented potential for social impact … if they have the tools.

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