Seeing inequities via Chromebook

The author's granddaughter, Lucia Barrett, participating in first grade online. [photo by Robin Koslen]

Winter break is here, and this retired public-school teacher has time to reflect on being the home teacher for my granddaughter, a first-grader. I’ve had a Chromebook view of education in our diverse community during the pandemic. There’ve been conversations about the implications of educational inequality on a national scale, but educational inequality is also a problem here in the Heights.

Our district’s teachers are doing a remarkable job, under difficult conditions. But remote learning is fraught with problems—devices freeze, websites don’t work the way they are supposed to, and lesson plans that were triple-checked before class suddenly have issues. But the real reason I’m writing is to call attention to the glaring inequities I’ve observed.

Everyone is on the same device, but not everyone is in the same portal. At the beginning of the year, it was clear that some kids had more experience and greater ease with technology. Some of these same kids have parents who are technologically savvy. 

Then there’s the rest of us. Sure, we e-mail, we post to Facebook, and we even know how to save a document; but troubleshooters we are not. When young students have tech problems, and they all sometimes do, some caregivers can solve them, and even explain to the child how to solve the problem the next time it occurs. But some of us struggle. 

Kids like my granddaughter can sit at a computer by themselves, in a quiet room, with help just a shout away. That's definitely not true for all kids. One young student does her work in daycare. When she needs help, she has to wait until someone can come to her aid. Furthermore, it’s a noisy, busy atmosphere where concentration is problematic. 

Some kids are in different locations on different days. Some days a kid might work from home, but on other days he may go to where mom works. If mom is working, that child is probably on his own for academic and technical issues. Mom’s boss is being considerate by allowing her to bring her child to work, but work is what she has to do. That is the reality for several kids in my granddaughter’s class. 

Everyone’s home is different, as well. If there is a toddler playing in the room, it is not quiet; materials may not be where the student left them; and mom might be busy doing laundry, or working herself. She might not notice that it is time for class to resume, so the student might arrive late, or not at all.

If dad’s just gotten off working the night shift, he’s not going to be the child’s contact person; maybe it’s an older sibling. But he’s doing his own school work and needs to be left alone, so he can graduate.

This is what I’ve observed from the other side of the Chromebook. I know there are other issues families are coping with (economic, social isolation, health), which I know exist. I also know that eventually we will need to be there to help—it’s what we must do if we aspire to be the community we profess to treasure.

Where do we begin? Reaching Heights has tutoring programs for different age groups. Lake Erie Ink is always looking for volunteers to work with their student writers. I do not have all the answers, but let us, as a caring community, open the discussion and keep it going until we find ways to level the playing field.

Robin Koslen

Robin Koslen, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a mom, grandma, retired teacher, full-time rebel, and an optimist.

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Volume 14, Issue 2, Posted 11:12 AM, 01.29.2021