Virtual learning has been a challenge, to put it lightly, for many families across the nation. But the way it has affected Black and Latinx families is even greater still. I’ve witnessed it in my own household, from having to use often-confusing education apps, to the sheer exhaustion of staring at a screen for hours on end, to my inability to always complete my own work due to essentially working as a teaching assistant for my son (thus cutting my own income down).
I’m one of the fortunate ones, though, and I recognize that the struggles of many other Latinx families (and Latinx immigrant households) are much greater than my own. While many of us continue in this struggle (in order to protect ourselves as well as others in the community), my hope is that schools across the nation begin addressing more of the following issues that are affecting Latinx virtual learning families at disproportionate rates.
Access to Technology, Internet, and Equipment
While this isn’t strictly an issue for Latinx families only, many students have struggled to find equity when it comes to the resources they need to learn virtually. Many Latinx households were already struggling with having access to a laptop or computer or even regular access to wifi prior to the pandemic. But these issues were brought to the forefront once COVID shut down schools, with some students ending up doing assignments via a parent’s smartphone or having to park outside of businesses and libraries with free wifi in order to connect to meetings. And while some schools have worked to try and offer laptops, they are not always as fast and reliable as ones bought and used by more affluent families.
Larger Language and Culture Barriers
As many of us who grew up in first generation households know, it’s often up to students to become translators for their non-English-speaking parents. While this can be a challenge, it’s never been more difficult than now in the midst of the pandemic. That’s because more and more students are requiring additional help with assignments due to lack of direct and immediate access to their teachers. This responsibility then lands on parents who may have to initially translate assignments before being able to attempt to explain it to their children. Navigating the technology is another hurdle for these parents, some of whom did not grow up using computers, others who did not complete their own education. All of these factors put some virtual learners at a disadvantage.
More Likely to Be Impacted by COVID-19
A year into the pandemic, the fact remains that Latinx folks are being disproportionately infected by COVID-19 across the nation. Compared to White non-Hispanics, we are seeing infection rates at 1.3x, hospitalizations at 3.2x, and deaths at 2.3x higher rates. Now imagine being a child whose parent catches COVID and has to be quarantined away from them while virtual learning. Or a child whose cousin passed away due to COVID and having to attend a Zoom funeral? No matter how much parents and guardians try to protect these kids, many of them are having to face illness and deaths in their families and it does affect their performance in virtual classes.
Disparities in Access to Mental Health Treatment
There’s no doubt that there has been a significant jump in mental health issues since the start of the pandemic. But while some parents may be able to obtain mental health services for their children, many others may not be able to or even willing. There were already disparities when it comes to who obtains care for mental health—with Latinxs either being unwilling to seek help (due to cultural stigma) or unable (due to lack of insurance, lack of finances, or other barriers)—and those disparities remain during the pandemic. Additionally, there are concerns that students from racial- and ethnic-minority groups (such as Latinx children) may struggle more with virtual learning due to their previous dependence on in-person mental health services received at school, due to implicit biases from teachers, and more.
Dealing with COVID-Related Economic Hardships
Black and Latinx families have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. According to the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment rates have skyrocketed for Latinx workers in comparison to white workers, with the largest job losses hitting Latina workers overall. With more economic hardships come things like food insecurity. According to the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families, one in five Latinx and Black households are currently food insufficient, meaning they are having trouble accessing enough food to eat in their homes. Now imagine trying to attend 4 Zoom classes or meetings a day with very little to eat?
Despite all this, the answer isn’t necessarily to send all students, or all Latinx students, back into schools. Rather, what is truly needed is to continue to address the inequities that already existed, and that continue to widen, between Latinx and Black students in comparison to their white classmates and their families.