It’s More than Just Laptops and Internet
Since the onset of online learning during COVID-19, a key equity concern for educators has been access to digital devices and the internet: how can students learn online if they don’t even have access to the necessary technology? School boards in Ontario have been working to provide families in need with devices and Internet access. Yet, as we move into the final few weeks of the school year and plan for learning during and beyond COVID-19, technology access alone won’t solve equity concerns.
Our Communities Experience Education – and Pandemics – Differently
Our schooling systems, along with many other aspects of public policy, are designed to benefit the white settler state at the expense of historically marginalized families. We have seen this in the ongoing impact of anti-Black racism through instances of police brutality and violence yet again this week.
Research has shown Black students don’t feel a sense of belonging in schools. Indigenous, Latinax, LGBTTTIQ, and at times female students also have different experiences with school relationships in comparison to the rest of the population. In other examples, Black and Indigenous students are overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions, and there are many other disparities in student achievement and overall well-being based on race, gender, sexuality, income or other identity markers. These disparities existed in public spaces well before the pandemic, and they continue to exist during COVID-19. For instance:
- Black and racialized people are more likely to be in front-line jobs and receive poor quality healthcare. They are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.
- The onset of the pandemic has led to a spike in Anti-Asian racism, leading to bullying, discrimination, physical and verbal attacks against people of Chinese or East-Asian descent, going as far as East-Asian Canadians being stabbed.
- Minimum wage or otherwise low-wage workers have lost their jobs/taken a cut in pay more frequently than those working high wage jobs.
Race, social class, gender, language, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or ability all play a role in creating differing experiences for students as they experience both schooling and COVID-19.
Understanding Trauma During Remote Learning
Sharon Ravitch talks about the importance of trauma-informed pedagogy that is attuned to both educators’ own and student trauma during COVID-19:
“…Right now during the pandemic, it’s vital to understand that while our students are all traumatized, all traumas are not the same and do not land the same ways. While the pandemic is shared trauma, it lands into the lives of already-vulnerable populations…in ways that can cause more severe diffusion effects. As well, some students already have trauma histories separate from COVID-19 that must be considered in relation to current shared challenges.”
However, how can educators do trauma informed work without first thinking about the ways in which they may be traumatizing and harming students? Since the onset of remote learning, I have seen education workers move mountains to make emergency remote learning happen – all while processing the realities of a pandemic themselves. But I’ve also seen practices that continue to perpetuate the same trauma face-to-face schooling does for many of our students: our Eurocentric teaching methods are neither culturally relevant nor responsive to the lived experiences of ALL students. Some examples of how remote learning can continue to perpetuate trauma include:
- Video Conferencing: Video conferencing can be a powerful tool to create connection in these difficult times. But I’ve also seen mandatory requests to turn on cameras during group video calls, without realizations that people come from varying socio-economic backgrounds and such requests could become a source of trauma. Should students or staff have to share their homes with peers who might use this to mock and bully? The videos and images of people online can be shared, this could open students up to predators, bullying (i.e., students putting filters on people’s faces), etc. What about the ways video conferencing makes historically marginalized teachers more prone to be demeaned, ridiculed, or discriminated against in online spaces? Or what about the fact this format of interaction is simply not comfortable for everyone?
- Drive-by-Parades: Staff in some schools have been hosting drive-by-parades to cheer on students. This is heartwarming and helps build connection in a time of distress, but what kinds of families do such events prioritize? How do they exclude students living in high rise apartments or staff without cars? When we think about demographics such as race and ethnicity, which of our students live in these high rises?
- Culturally Relevant Materials: A shift to remote learning has meant a shift to reliance on online resources that aren’t always culturally relevant. Are all educators being selective to include non-Eurocentric authors, stories, and assignments when choosing what websites, videos, or resources to use?
These examples are nowhere exhaustive. There are countless other examples or considerations we have to make when thinking about trauma in relation to education. Black students for example have talked about feeling afraid as a result of how the healthcare system is treating their community. Black folks talk about widespread anti-Black racism where people react to them with fear when seeing them in masks. There are others who are homeless, living with disabilities, living in unsafe and violent homes, living with parents/guardians who are alcoholics/dealing with other addictions, among other such things. Are we centering these students or staff when planning remote learning?
This week, we saw educators and school boards make statements about the ongoing anti-Black racism in our communities, and commitments to address the profound harm that has been caused to Black students and staff. But once the headlines pass, will there be real efforts made to create mandatory anti-racism training for all educators? Will all educators make efforts to support the mental well-being of Black, Indigenous, and other historically marginalized students in their care?
From the onset, the very design of remote learning has revolved around the majority of students who have access. For example, in the Toronto District School Board, almost 60,000 students, or about 24% of the student population, received a device. While remote learning started on April 7th for most of the city, it was weeks before many students received devices. Provincial remote learning plans were designed for the needs of the majority of the population that did have access. But what if we planned emergency remote learning with the needs of the quarter of the population that didn’t have access instead? Would that have helped make sure no children were left behind from the start?
So What do we Do?
A host of experts have already laid out recommendations for system leaders and educators about how we can address equity issues during and beyond COVID-19 (See References and Further Reading below). As education workers, we need to keep asking how our education will respond to the lived realities of every single child in our care. More than anything, as we continue delivering remote learning during this pandemic and prepare for the next school year, we need to keep questions of equity at the forefront. How will we constantly make noise about systemic inequity and hold our systems accountable? Equity can’t be an afterthought in our planning, it needs to be a front and center primary concern.
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lives through surveillance, policing and the absence of health data. The Conversation.
Clyne, C. [@clclyne]. (2020, May 7). Shouldn’t be doing trauma-informed work unless we are
Gaymes, A., & San Vicente, R. (2020). Schooling for equity during and beyond COVID-19.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Hinkson, K. (2020, March 18). Montreal’s Korean consulate issues safety warning after man
James, C.E., & Turner, T. (2017). Towards race equity in education: The schooling of Black
students in Greater Toronto Area. York University
James, C.E. (2019). We rise together. York University.
Larsson, P. (2020, March 31). Anti-Asian racism during coronavirus: How the language of
disease produces hate and violence. The Conversation.
Kappler, M. (2020, May 29). Racism in Canada is ever-present, but we have a long history of
denial. Huffington Post.
Kirkland, D.E. (2020). Guidance on culturally responsive-sustaining remote education:
Centering equity, access, and educational justice. NYU Steinhardt: Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.
Macdonald, D. (2020). Early warning: Who’s bearing the brunt of COVID19’s labour market
impacts?. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Peel District School Board. (2020). Message from Peel District School Board Director of
Education: Heavy Week – Anti-Black racism across North America is nothing new. Peel District School Board.
Ravitch, S. (2020). FLUX pedagogy: Transforming teaching & learning during coronavirus.
MethodSpace: Sage Publishing.
Redden, E. (2020, March 30). Dissertation defense on Zoom interrupted by racist attack.
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Teotonio, I & Rushowy, K. (2020, April 17). School boards work around clock to get laptops,
iPads, devices to students. Toronto Star.
Toronto District School Board. (2017). Enhancing equity task force: Report and
recommendations. Toronto District School Board.
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TDSB students (Grades 7-12): Relationships at school. Toronto District School Board.
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- Anti-Racist Educator Reads | voicEd Radio
- Ramon San Vicente and Alison Gaymes — Schooling for Equity During and Beyond COVID-19 | voicEd Radio
Articles & Reports
- Schooling for Equity During and Beyond COVID-19
- Equity-Focused Approaches to Learning Loss during COVID-19
- Early Warning: Who’s Bearing the Brunt of COVID19’s Labour Market Impacts?
- Guidance on Culturally Responsive – Sustaining Remote Education
- Educating Ontario Students During Covid-19
- FLUX Pedagogy: Transforming Teaching & Learning during Coronavirus
- The Skin We’re In – Desmond Cole
- So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
- Unsettling Canada – Art Manuel
- White Fragility – Robin D. Angelo
- Indigenous Writes – Chelsea Vowel
- Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education – Linda Tuhiwai, Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang
Aakriti Kapoor was the primary author of this post. This blog has benefited from inputs from Hafeeza.