COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on educational disparities in a painful way. Children who were not doing well prior to the pandemic are doing even worse as a result of distance education strategies that school closures have put into motion. We have been forced into operating in a new reality for which we as an island community, and the rest of the world for that matter, have been dismally unprepared. Samuel’s mantra, “Learning must never stop, even when school is not in session,” has never been more meaningful.
None of us in our wildest imagination could have anticipated the sickness, death, economic devastation and anxiety that a virus would cause. Many families are struggling to survive ever-looming threats of homelessness, starvation, job loss and the virus itself. These global challenges are life-threatening and cannot be overstated.
In this economically hostile and emotionally unsettling environment, our community must also address the critical issues of child care, teaching and learning. We are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, or to put it plainly in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma.
On the one hand, if parents send their preschool and K-12 students back to school, they run a huge risk of contracting the virus or spreading it. That is a scary prospect on Guam, especially as vulnerable grandparents or elders often live with or near their children and grandchildren.
On the other hand, if children don’t return to school, most parents can’t go back to work. If they are able to work remotely from home, they still have to care for their children throughout the day. Now, they have the added responsibility of being teachers in the “school” sense of the word. They must help their children in subject areas they have not mastered, using digital platforms they have not navigated before. Even teachers are confounded by what their own children have to complete through remote schooling.
In searching for best practices, Samuel and I had conversations with some parents about how they were handling the challenges of remote schooling. All the mothers we spoke with were college educated, accomplished women who are dedicated to their children’s academic success. We figured that teachers and professionals, who are dealing with these challenges in their own homes with their children, might provide valuable insights.
Without exception, everyone we talked to shared outright that they were floundering. Having to work remotely full time, providing child care full time, and becoming the primary teachers of their children since the lockdown has become an unbearable strain. Some admitted that their relationships with spouses were souring and that they were at a loss as to how best to balance their overwhelming responsibilities.
“I can’t take the pressure much longer.” “I am going crazy.” “I don’t know what to do.” “This distance learning is not working.” “God, what are parents who don’t have Wi-Fi, familiarity with technology and access to tools doing?” “I’m a teacher, and I can’t deal with this. How are parents who are not educators coping? I’m not coping.” "I’m scared, I can’t send my kids to school and expose them to the virus.” The panic and urgency in their voices made the challenge we are faced with even clearer.
We are well aware that one size does not fit all. Solutions for families with technical skills, access to digital devices and the know-how to navigate web-based applications with their children will not serve the needs of those families who lack resources, skills and the knowledge of virtual learning. Pre-COVID, these families were not able to assist their children with homework under the best of circumstances. Even the most tech-savvy parents with resources and professional know-how can’t cope.
It’s because we are traveling in uncharted seas, folks. If half the ship sinks, we are all likely to drown. "All hands-on deck" is a must if we are to navigate this storm successfully. We have to be patient and expect mistakes. Rather than being critical, let’s draw on our traditional wisdom, leverage modern tools, and collaborate across the digital divide.