[OPINION] What will happen to poor students when schools go online?

I just attended a meeting on the utilization of online learning materials, as our university is about to use these to aid the continuation of our classes amid the coronavirus outbreak. For this so-called distance learning to be effective, a student will need a computer and stable internet.  

Earlier this week, the university tasked each faculty member to conduct a survey in our respective classes to assess our students’ access to virtual learning. The survey asks how many students have computers and internet access in their homes. All of my students, in 4 classes, have computers. But some of them do not have access to the internet when they go home. (READ: How Metro schools continue lessons amid coronavirus threat)

I start to wonder about other students in the country who do not have internet access, let alone computers and gadgets. What will happen to their learning when their school suspends classes? How are they going to have access to online learning materials? 

The presence of technology and digital classrooms are manifestations of a modern education system. We see that distance is being overcome. The physical presence of warm bodies is not necessary for a class to be held.  

While the presence of technology is one good story of innovation, access to them is another. This issue is rooted in the larger social problem of digital inequality. Only those who have the resources to buy gadgets and to get an internet connection in their homes are the ones who are privileged to continue their learning despite the physical distance. They are ensured that their education is not compromised at times like these.

The adjustments done by universities for continuing teaching through online resources is an impressive solution. But the situation also unearths the reality that income and social inequality breeds digital inequality. When they go back to school, the poor will have to make up for the lessons they missed, having not been able to attend the online classes. (READ: [OPINION] Let’s not forget the poor during the coronavirus pandemic)

Online classrooms, internet resources, and digital technology have been remarkable modes of closing the physical distance and making education perpetual and accessible. But we must ask, “For whom?”

Students can only go so far with their access to technology. In a world where virtual reality and digital classrooms are becoming a feature of formal education, having a personal computer and a reliable internet connection is a sure advantage. For those who do not have access, this is yet another challenge that they have to work hard to overcome.

After this pandemic, the gap between the rich and the poor will still remain. The lower classes will continue to navigate their way around the limits of their daily lives to have better access to the things they need in order to survive.

This painful reality of inequality is not just virtual. Decent food, clean water, safe shelter, quality education, affordable medicine, and secure jobs are concrete and tangible necessities. These are part of the greater gaps that we need to close if we want everyone to go the distance. – Rappler.com

Prince Kennex R. Aldama is an assistant professor of sociology at the Department of Social Sciences, UP Los Baños.