Students Are Missing Out On Their Future Because of Covid-19

As a high school student attending a private school in Singapore, I was able to have a smooth online learning experience. Classes continued as if the virus was merely a negligible obstacle and most students and teachers had no problem coping with the new digital learning environment as everyone had a laptop and a good connection. Although it was evident that some teachers were not used to platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, I was surprised how they were able to make swift alterations to said platforms, as expected of teachers from Singapore American School. The only thing that troubled me during online learning was the fact that I was confined to my room and couldn’t meet my friends; I was oblivious to the worries that other students could have had, such as not being able to join the online school.

Even though Singapore is a prosperous country with a stable economy, it is not fair to say that there is no rich-poor gap as inequalities were highlighted during the circuit breaker. There are families that don’t have a stable connection or connection at all, while some lack laptops. For these less fortunate families, the Ministry of Education loaned them over 12,500 laptops and 1,200 dongles to allow all families to engage in HBL (Home Based Learning).

Furthermore, there are support programs that are provided for needy families. Sheryl Shivani, 17, was a student studying for her O levels when her school transitioned to online learning. She was unequipped with a laptop and did her assignments on her mobile phone which hampered her learning. Fortunately, her teacher advised her about the NEU PC Plus Program which offers low-income households and people with disabilities the chance to own a computer at a subsidized rate. Households with a monthly income of $2,700 or less are able to receive financial aid under the Ministry of Education Financial Assistance Scheme. With the necessary aids that allow the impoverished families in Singapore to engage in online learning, less fortunate students were able to receive an education that allowed them to stay in line with their studies just like the students from private schools.

Apart from monetary concerns, there were also a few incidents that were reported by the Ministry of Education regarding Zoom hijacking, where students or adults hijacked online classes and showed pornography. Incidents of Zoom hijacking were also reported at my school, because of students giving the link for the class to students from different schools, who would then join the class using inappropriate or racist names. Teachers at our school took this matter quite seriously, and soon there was a scare that ran among us students after teachers warned us that they could track down who gave out the links, and offenders would be penalized. Soon, there were no longer students named “joe mama” joining our classes. Those incidents truly are one that I think happens once in a lifetime.

As safety measures have become less strict, students are back at schools and online learning has already become a thing of the past; at least in Singapore. As many as 100 countries around the world are yet to announce the date for schools to reopen. In the United States, disparities among the poorest and richest schools reveal the disadvantages and impacts that the students in the poor schools face; the disadvantages revolve around technology access, whether teachers are fulfilling their role, student truancy, and synchronous instruction.

Similar to the issue with impoverished Singapore families, there are many students in the United States who are unable to join the online school as they don’t have a laptop or internet. In districts with the lowest number of low-income families, just one in five district leaders has said that the lack of laptops and the internet are major issues, as compared to districts with the highest number of low-income families where two out of three district leaders say it’s a major issue. Although schools are making efforts to distribute Chromebook to their students, the result of a supply backlog continues to hamper their ability to do so.

The issue of accessibility not only resides among low-income students but teachers as well. It was reported by the EdWeek Research Center that the percent of teachers engaging in online learning was 22 percent lower in the lowest-income schools as compared to the highest-income schools. Therefore, many students in the lowest-income schools are unable to receive the education that they need, while students in the highest-income schools are continuing their classes. This discrepancy puts low-income students at a significant disadvantage both in education and motivation. With a lack of motivation to continue school, many students in low-income families have stopped showing up to online classes.

Students in poverty are less likely to log into class than students in the middle and upper classes. Schools with the highest number of impoverished students have reported that almost a third of their students do not join online classes, which is three times the number of students that do not join class in schools with the least number of impoverished students. Whether it is that students are refusing to go to school or simply can’t due to their socioeconomic standing, missing out on education will drastically impact their performance in future years, as they will have a hard time catching up with those that have been attending an online school. Disparities in elementary and high school will lead to disparities in higher education, which can and most likely will lead to disparities in job opportunities. In missing out on school, students are ultimately missing out on opportunities in higher education and jobs.