Equitable Access to Education:
Every Child’s Right
On Wednesday 18th March 2020, the government announced that all schools would be closing to try and slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is a date that few parents and young people will forget. Following closure, schools worked rapidly to shift most, if not all, educational provision online.
Bedfordshire Learning Link have been incredibly moved by the efforts of teachers who have been doing their utmost to ensure that children who do not have access to the internet are receiving paper-based support. However, despite the hard work of schools and teachers, the learning experience of those children without digital access will have been impoverished. They will not have access to the wide range of online resources that their peers have. We know that children living in poverty are already significantly disadvantaged in comparison to their wealthier peers. Key Stage 4 data from 2019 shows that only 24.7% of children from poorer families who are eligible for free school meals (or those who are in care) achieved grades 9-5 in their GCSE English and Maths, compared with 49.9% of other children. According to a recent report from the Sutton Trust on the impact of school closures, 15% of teachers report that more than a third of their students would not have adequate access to an electronic device for learning from home, compared to only 2% in the most affluent state schools. It seems inevitable that this gap will widen as a result of the pandemic.
Being isolated without any social contact with friends can also have a negative impact on children’s psychological and physical health. This is compounded for children who are living in households where their parents’ employment is precarious and incomes uncertain. Children, and particularly those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have faced disproportionate economic impacts, mental health challenges, and disrupted education.
With so much uncertainty about the future, it is important that we take steps now to mitigate these impacts and try to safeguard children from the most acute negative effects.
“A child’s right to an education does not change because of a crisis. In fact, it is just as important as every other need” Henrietta H. Fore, Unicef Executive Director.