I like to joke these days that my seventeenth birthday was the day the world went ballistic – March 13, 2020. That was the first day that my school was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At that point I was excited to miss a few days of school, to enjoy an extended Spring Break. We all expected for this to be over in a matter of weeks. Months later, however, we in California are still pretty much locked down. What we once thought would be a few weeks off has turned into four months of isolation, and there seems to be little hope for us going back to normal in the near future. I really enjoy learning about history, and I often think about how cool it would be to experience some of its most famous eras. I think this will undoubtedly be one of those historical moments that kids will learn about years in the future, but as we experience it first hand, it is just SO boring.
This pandemic is special in the way that it has affected everyone. I often write about experiences that we share with others around the world, and this is an obvious case of that. For example, just like here in California, Uganda instituted a national lockdown in mid-March. Schools were closed and children were sent home from school (most attend boarding schools where they are safely housed and fed, as well as taught) with instructions to continue with their studies at home. Suddenly youth around the world were expected to engage in distance learning with little to no preparation.
My experience learning from home was not altogether unsuccessful, but the lack of interaction with teachers and peers was unfulfilling. Every day I had a list of assignments to complete and that’s about it. I never realized how much I enjoyed being in a classroom environment until I was forced to learn in front of a screen. Being in a communal space with academic peers and most importantly, a teacher, gives one a sense of purpose that doesn’t translate over the internet. It was very difficult for me to transition into thinking of my home as a place to work hard and learn as opposed to my place of relaxation. However, I was fortunate enough to have access to fast internet and even a brand new computer (which I built myself during quarantine) to comfortably manage schoolwork at home. Many others in my vicinity and around the world were not so fortunate.
It is hard to imagine just how difficult it is for youth to shelter-in-place and learn in homes that lack technology, space, and safety. Unfortunately, that is the reality for millions of youth in the US and around the world. Many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, rely on food from school for their main meal of the day, and have limited access to internet and technology at home. Poor children living in low-income countries, like Uganda, face even greater hurdles to remaining in school while at home. Recently, a director at the United Nations Development Program estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic was rolling back a decade of progress in girls education.
At Ray United we have tried to make sure that our sponsored students are in safe homes and have the tools and resources they need to stay in school. For example, we have provided laptops, modems, and cell phones to the youth who needed them. Still, as the crisis drags on with no idea of when we will be allowed to return to school, even with these resources many are struggling (like me) to keep up and remain engaged in the curriculum.
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated both how connected we are and how vastly unequal the world is. At this time we all need to be focused on continuing to help #levelthefield for all youth, including ensuring that all kids have the resources they need to continue to learn safely. Without urgent action, the gap between well off children and those less fortunate will continue to expand.