Students without access to distance education: the pandemic reveals great inequalities


Given the unstoppable advance of COVID-19 and its worldwide expansion, one of the first measures fell directly on the classrooms. From one day to the next, the approximately 10 million students in Spain, according to data from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training , stayed at home.

And along with that educational lock, the first doubts arose, and some fears as well, about how to respond to students and continue supporting their learning process without their presence in classrooms.

The world resurfaces online

At this point, as a response to the new scenario that has broken into our lives, it is when the online world resurfaces as an alternative way to face-to-face education, gaining the credibility that for many years has been denied by presenting it as something alien to the educational environment and whose use should be limited to few online activities. Almost nobody seemed to conceive of it as something that opens up endless possibilities for the full development of the students’ educational process.

Forced by the circumstances , teachers began to launch the first online classes , relying solely on their creativity and their willingness to do things well, despite the fact that many had never experienced teaching in an out-of  classroom setting. And thus, gradually, other types of extracurricular activities, entertainment or play, with educational or non-educational purposes, have been added that aim to contribute their grain of sand in this hard process we are going through.

Faced with the paradigm shift, new inequalities

Once everything is underway, new reasonable doubts begin to arise where the academic takes second place and the valuation of the inequalities that this new reality could be causing begins to acquire importance.

We find that each school, institute, university and Autonomous Community establishes its own action plan, different from each other, and that limit its adaptation process. The most seasoned manage to adapt to the new reality and maintain, even if in a different way from the usual one, a “normalized” rhythm of classes, assignments and exams, while others, more anchored to face-to-face structures, are left behind.

In this case, a first inequality is established that does not allow progress throughout the country in the same way or at the same pace, leading to significant social unrest, especially within the educational sphere. What will students do who do not have access to online platforms , who cannot take their exams, who cannot finish their syllabi or who cannot prepare for the EBAU as expected?

Not all students have internet access

Before these questions that students, families and teachers ask themselves, other reflections are added that raise a difficult wall to tear down and that make us think about the individual characteristics of the students and their families.

Firstly, and despite the fact that in Spain, according to data from the National Statistics Institute , 91.4% of Spanish households have internet access, many students, especially those in more disadvantaged conditions, are deprived of power continue with curricular learning.

But it is also necessary to add other problems at the technological level, since not all homes have adequate or sufficient computers (many have a single computer for the whole family, even none), nor with printers or scanners to adequately carry out all the tasks that may be required. This situation is further aggravated in households where there is no previous training or experience in the use of these tools.

It should also be borne in mind that, for their part, teachers have had to update themselves, in record time, in the use of online tools , the development of resources, as well as to maintain the rhythm of student learning by adapting the material of the contents programmed for this educational course.

The technological gap has become more evident than ever. All this has generated a saturation in families and in students of the highest educational levels, which require a higher level of autonomy and better planning.

Secondly, there is concern about the family environment in which some students are currently, characterized by numerous deficiencies and realities such as violence, illness or the lack of a social structure that supports them, and which places them in difficult environments that do not allow respond to what is really important, your well-being.

Still, we can find an opportunity to promote among students the much desired and necessary competence to learn to learn, to be autonomous in their tasks and, ultimately, to be responsible for their own learning process. An education understood from the figure of the teacher with an accompaniment work and from a vision that places the student in the center should facilitate this process.

And after the virus, what?

We are now facing a much deeper social and educational change than we could possibly imagine. We have the opportunity to generate new responses to these new needs, and not only to do it, but to do it well.

Everything seems to indicate that the online world will continue to acquire the prominence it deserves, understanding it as an environment that coexists with face-to-face education, especially in the university sphere, and that far from what is expected allows us to interact and socialize more than previously believed, that It allows us to get excited about what we do and feel part of a whole, much bigger than we thought.

But we must bear in mind that online education is not simply about improvising adapting educational content to online platforms so that students can submit their assignments and exams, teach virtually or establish a means of communication.

Online teaching requires a set of resources to ensure that the student is accompanied throughout their learning process, that they have the appropriate supports and the necessary experience and preparation to offer quality resources, teamwork between teachers and students and, of course, a solid educational and pedagogical model.

Author Bio: Aitor Álvarez Bardón is Director of the area of ​​Educational Psychology. Faculty of Education, UNIR at the International University of La Rioja