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Remote learning under emergency conditions was a “just-in-time” learning experience for both educators and students. Educators and students everywhere “did their best” under pandemic conditions, navigating challenges, and conducting a global experiment in learning, having transitioned with minimal time to plan and prepare. Joseph Luft, the executive director of the Internationals Network for Public School may sum up this emergency best: “I’m not looking for miracles; I’m just looking for people working to keep kids connected to school.”
So, let’s take a moment to take a breath.
As we wind down from the term and look forward, it’s also helpful to look back, even if the past term was pockmarked with more challenges than successes. Because it’s helpful to do a “learning review” (also known as an “after-action-review” or the more macabre-named “postmortem”) with the purpose of improving on a global experiment.
Learning reviews examine the following:
In this learning review, we will focus on how remote learning fell short with regard to the digital divide and what we can do to improve in subsequent terms.
Remote learning exacerbated inequities in education, which existed well before the Spring of 2020. In 2012, The Atlantic article entitled “The Decline of the ‘Great Equalizer,’” Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville stated, “Income depends on educational achievement, and the single best predictor of a child’s likelihood of academic success remains in turn the socio-economic status of his or her mother.”
The above inequities continue in remote learning. Teen Vogue’s “Distance Learning During Coronavirus Worsens Race, Class Inequality in Education” says that according to UC Berkeley education professor Tolani Britton, “The use of distance learning assumes a lot about students’ access to computers, reliable internet connection, space to work at home and parents’ ability to help students with work.” Statistics have determined that this access is sorely lacking, showing big remote learning gaps for low-income and special needs students.
What do some of these inequities look like?
If education, as stated by Horace Mann, is “the equalizer of the conditions of men,” then remote learning cannot further the rift between the haves and the have nots. Access must be upheld for all.
In order to address these gaps, we can--and should--enact culturally responsive pedagogy and actions. As Matthew Lynch states in Huffington Post:
“Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world.”
So, what are some ways to address and bridge inequalities in remote learning under the umbrella of culturally responsive pedagogy?
Karen Strassler wrote in The New York Times, “Equality in the classroom is a fiction — it would be absurd to suggest otherwise. It’s painfully obvious that only some of my students benefited from strong high school educations. Others start college inadequately prepared in foundational reading and writing skills. Many are immigrants who struggle with academic English and miss the cultural references that would make our readings more readily accessible. Race, gender, class, sexuality, citizenship status and other factors shape who feels confident speaking up in class and who feels afraid of saying the wrong thing. When we pretend such inequities don’t exist, we allow them to persist unchallenged. But like other utopian dreams, the fiction of equality — cultivated by those generic rooms with their uniform chairs — also has its value.”
As educators, we are building a narrative and reaching towards equality. While equity may not exist today, we have a responsibility and ensuing choice to move towards equity, as individuals and as institutions, semester by semester, course by course, assignment by assignment, and student by student.