Digital Challenges for English Learners

Derek Braun, TESOL/OFLA Liaison Columbus City Schools, EL Science Teacher As many districts have moved to remote learning or hybrid instruction, the challenges that existed for many English Learners have become even more significant and the disparity of access to education has become even greater.  English Learners often come from families of lower socioeconomic status that lead to experiencing additional challenges.  English learners often have a disproportionately more difficult time with access; either from lacking an adequate device or internet access, an appropriate space at home to study, and potentially suffering from the economic hardship of a family member losing a job. Many districts provided Chromebooks for students to participate in online learning; however, many families of English Learners lack a consistent or the high-speed internet access required for a dependable connection for live video class or working on online assignments.  Another challenge EL students often face is having an appropriate and quiet area to which they can participate in online classes.  Many times students are living in apartments with limited space and several other siblings also participating in online classes which can result in a chaotic environment.  An often overlooked hardship many English Learners have faced is living through the economic shutdown without proper documentation or legal status.  Students living with parents or guardians that have lost work may not have citizenship to receive such assistance as unemployment or stimulus checks that were issued during the shutdown.  This can have the unfortunate consequence of putting pressure on high school students to work more hours or search for jobs to make up for lost wages from family members. As educators, it can sometimes be difficult to know the boundaries between setting rigorous academic goals and showing empathy and compassion.  One silver lining has been that as test scores and grading scales have all been disrupted, I have felt a freedom to encourage students to focus on completing assignments with the goal of learning.  I know several of my students have not been attending live class meetings because they work during the day.  I have done my best to try to keep them caught up by completing as many asynchronous assignments as possible.  Among all the frustrations of remote learning it must be our goal to try to remind ourselves to continue to care for students as individuals and support them as much as possible.
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