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By Karen Abrams
Children.org reports what is already well researched fact, and that is, “When we reduce barriers to education, we set children up to thrive. It’s not only about knowledge and numbers, access to education reduces a child’s involvement in gangs and drugs, and lowers the amount of teen pregnancies in areas where adequate education is available. Education leads to healthier childhoods and, ultimately, to greater economic prospects as adults.”
In the United States of America, 2018, some 94 percent of 3- to 18-year-olds had home internet access: 88 percent had access through a computer, and 6 percent had access only through a smartphone. The remaining 6 percent had no internet access at home, that 6% accounts for more than 3 million school aged children. In Guyana, the 2017 LAPOP survey conducted by Vanderbilt University revealed that respondents from less than 50% of households in Guyana report having internet and computer access. Internet access, it must be noted, still means that a parent must find the means to pay for exponentially increased data needs within that household, a fact that significantly decreases that 50% number, in fact, we hypothesize that less than 30% of households in Guyana have access to reliable, consistent internet and computer access, not accounting for unreliable power supply during class periods on zoom.
Online learning is not without its disadvantages even for those children who do have consistent reliable internet access. Research regarding online learning and teaching shows that they are effective only if students have consistent access to the internet and computers and if teachers have received targeted training and support for online instruction. Because these needed requirements for effectiveness have been largely absent for many, remote education during the pandemic has very often impeded teaching and learning. It should be noted however, that in Guyana and around the globe, some educational organizations have risen to the challenges of online education and have provided innovative education solutions which will prove to be effective and efficient in scaling and could be one of the tools used to reach vulnerable students across Guyana and provide them with the quality education to which they are entitled and which will properly prepare them for contributing meaningfully to development in the future.
Social and Educational effects of the pandemic
All Guyanese families are dealing with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the more than half of the Guyanese households living in poverty, the effects will continue to be devastating. Regarding the United States, the Brookings Institute reports that, “A generation of children—including the millions who will be born in 2020—will be at risk not only because schooling and formal learning have been disrupted but also because financial distress has long-term negative consequences, including food insecurity and housing instability, to name a few. This is especially damaging when it occurs during the first three years of a child’s life—at a time when food and strong caregiver attachments form the foundation for a child’s learning and social trajectories throughout life and at a time when “toxic stress” can have the greatest impact. And it is just as damaging during adolescence, when emotional and social development around risk-taking and identity formation conflict with social distancing and shelter-in-place rules. We can expect similar or worse outcomes for Guyana. COVID-19 has been particularly damaging to the lives of under-resourced families.
Implications for Guyana
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a growing chasm in the digital and academic divide in Guyana. The truth is, during the pandemic, while a significant number of children are “over-screened; too much screen time, more than twice that number are ‘under-screened; too little screen time on education or effective education’. Many vulnerable children who have been unable to access education during the pandemic are simply not going to return to school. Many who return will remain woefully behind and will continue to trail their better resourced peers. As in the United States and many nations around the world, there will be devastating consequences for Guyana if the situation is not addressed and the resources are not allocated to dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 on education.
Once the pandemic allows it, we will need to make up for this time by increasing both the amount and quality of learning time—through extended schedules, summer enrichment and after-school activities, more personalised instruction, and staffing strategies that reduce class sizes and staff schools with sufficient and highly credentialed educators, additionally, Ministry Of Education leaders have the option of deciding to require every child repeat the missed school year; most parents may balk at this option. The Ministry of Education; like numerous school systems around the world, is in a difficult position. Parents, teachers, students and administrators will need all the help they can get to deal with the consequences of this pandemic on education. “The village” will have to contribute to the solution for this national problem or consequences will be dire.
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“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” – Aristotle