Much has been written about the health and economic toll of COVID-19 on communities of color, but what about the educational impact? The global economy contracted by 3.5 percent in 2020, according to the April 2021 World Economic Outlook Report published by the IMF, but in the arena of education, nearly one billion children are in danger of falling behind. And while one billion innocents globally – many of them members of the diaspora – are left behind, the demand for professional homeschooling and private tutors skyrocketed among the wealthy. Those that cannot afford private school pods on piano or Latin are bound to suffer.
Just as private tutoring for the children of the wealthy is not going away, homeschooling also is a new normal across the spectrum. The 2020 Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey shows that the number of African-American families homeschooling has gone up five-fold in the last year. And just as women are more often than not in charge of the home schooling, burnout among mothers is on the rise.
Communities of color were on the wrong side of the digital divide even before COVID. Educational outcomes for minority children, particularly in the West, have always been much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources. However, since the landmark Brown v The Board of Education decision in America, things had been slowly changing. That is until the digital divide, and now the great disruptor, COVID. “So for some families the schoolhouse door was barred because they didn’t have internet access,” Education Secretary, John B. King Jr, said in a Brookings webinar last summer. “We also know that … families of color were less likely to have devices … you actually need a device for each child in the home to be working on their schoolwork simultaneously,” Sara Atske and Andrew Perrin note in their Pew Research report on Home broadband Adoption by Race:
“Eight-in-ten White adults report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 69% of Black adults and 67% of Hispanic adults. Eight-in-ten White adults also report having a broadband connection at home, while smaller shares of Black and Hispanic adults say the same – 71% and 65%, respectively.”
The digital divide truly has gotten worse with COVID. According to the World Bank, $10 trillion of lifecycle earnings could be lost (!) to this cohort of learners if the inequalities regarding remote learning access globally are not addressed. The world of the future will literally be less productive because of COVID’s accelerating effect on educational inequality. We risk losing the next Benjamin Banneker and unravelling decades worth of progress made in education in the United States and throughout the world.
“Learning loss” is an actual – and significant – global phenomenon. In 2020, grade 2 students in South Africa lost between 57 % and 70 % of a year of learning relative to their pre-pandemic peers. The World Bank, which is the biggest investor in education in the developing world, has much to say on the subject. According to their simulations on the future impact of school closings, COVID-19 could result in a loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing down the effective years of basic schooling that children across the world achieve during their schooling life from 7.9 years to 7.3 years. This, of course, leads to lower lifetime wages, which leads to increase in poverty worldwide – the legacy of COVID to future generations.
Every child’s educational situation has been affected adversely by COVID, most especially the children of the urban poor, who are often members of the diaspora. “In every country we surveyed, teachers suggested that their students were behind where they used to be,” said McKinsey senior expert Emma Dorn. Emma Dorn co-authored a teacher survey on remote learning for the McKinsey institute with Li-Kai Chen, Jimmy Sarakatsannis and Anna Wiesinger. The survey found, among other things, that remote learning outcomes differed widely depending on public or private schools. “If you look at the effectiveness of remote learning, teachers in public schools rated it about a 4.4 (out of 10), teachers in private schools rated it a 6 in 10 … and teachers in high poverty schools rated the effectiveness of remote learning at a 2.5,” Dorn added.
COVID-19, we know, widened the wealth gap. As Linda Darling-Hammond wrote in an influential Brookings Institution study Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education, “In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states.”