Equity Issues in the Age of COVID-19

IMG_1553As the world adjusts to the difficult realities presented by COVID-19, I’m feeling very proud to be part of the education community. Many challenges come with not being able to meet in person for classes, conferences, and events, but I’m truly inspired by all of the ways that educators are supporting each other and leveraging their many skills to teach and learn together. I’m seeing so many great ideas born out of educators’ creativity already! And I’m encouraged that this new wave of online learning presents important accessibility opportunities for students. (We’re fortunate that many folks have years of online teaching and learning experience to share, along with the educational and accessibility innovations that the disability community has been contributing for decades.)

ALL THAT SAID, we also need to remember the important equity issues embedded in online learning. While there may be widespread access to tech among college students, we shouldn’t assume that absolutely everyone has easy access. Resources like libraries are still vital to many college students! (God bless librarians.) Additionally, access to technology for K-12 students is not as widespread as some may think, and students living in poverty will be disproportionately left out of online learning if they don’t receive access and support. This is all in addition to the important housing, nutrition, and safety services that higher education housing offers to students. 

And also, teachers at all levels need support and resources to teach online! Obviously, this is especially true for teachers who mostly teach in-person. But as the numbers of online learners scale-up very rapidly in the coming weeks, nearly everyone is going to need help. Educational institutions’ budgets are already stretched so thin, but educators need and deserve training in online teaching. Policy makers need to step up and fund the resources that students and educators need to keep students on track for the remainder of the school year and beyond. A shift from business as usual is going to require a shift from funding as usual.

As many smart and dedicated people have pointed out, the public health-related closure of day cares, preschools, and K-12 schools could have very dire consequences for the most vulnerable students in the US. Many students living in poverty receive vital nutrition, health, and childcare services from their schools everyday. Our government leaders need to have detailed, wrap-around plans for how we will support students in the event of temporary school closure. (Of course, this life-sustaining centrality of schools in the lives of millions of students should be a clear wake-up call about poverty in our society, but I’ll save that for another conversation.)

The Covid-19 virus has had tragic consequences for many people and families across the world. In order to stem the tide, the proactive decisions of many educational groups and institutions to suspend in-person interactions are difficult but necessary in many situations. As this new educational landscape forms, I see many promising opportunities for innovation in how educators support learners and provide innovative accessibility options through technology. Not surprisingly, educators are already working hard to support each other and their students during this challenging time. Perhaps now more than ever, we need the rest of society to pull together and support students in whatever way they can as well.

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