A study from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is spotlighting the serious consequences of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, with families across Kentucky reporting difficulties in juggling at-home child care and work, along with unreliable internet access for online classes.
The study’s results were drawn from a survey designed by the Prichard Committee’s citizen research team of students, parents and teachers, which reached more than 4,000 people in 111 of the state’s 120 counties, a news release announcing the results said.
The researchers also conducted peer interviews of students, teachers and parents from across Kentucky.
Natalie McCutchen, an assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Simpson County, helped conduct the research as an educator with 15 years of experience teaching middle grades math. The statewide results mirror what’s happening in her school community, McCutchen told the Daily News.
“I think the key challenge deals with remote teaching and learning,” McCutchen said, noting that parents are shouldering more of the full-time burden in educating their children rather than acting as a support system as they previously had.
“More of the responsibility has shifted to the parents. That has been a shift that has been difficult for many households,” McCutchen said, adding that schools act as a clearinghouse for resources like food, clothing and mental health support. “Without having those supports consistently for the last few months, I think it has been hard on families, it has been hard on parents.”
The survey results showed that of the 2,068 teachers and families that participated, 21% of families described juggling at-home child care and work as a big concern, while 12% of families said they did not have reliable access to the internet for distance learning.
Educators also face significant challenges, with 33% of teachers surveyed reporting that they only sometimes or never have access to distraction-free environments when teaching from home. Another 15% had to share the devices they use to teach remotely with others at home, results showed.
“This study shows that the digital divide, child care needs, limited social support, and other realities that come from families working, teaching, and learning at home – are having a dramatic impact on Kentucky students’ education,” Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Prichard Committee president and chief executive, said in the release. “It will take a concerted effort – including from our elected officials and local community organizations – to ensure that families, students and teachers get the supports they need during the pandemic and beyond.”
The solutions the report proposes to improve remote teaching include allocating more tax dollars for technology and other resources, tapping community organizations for better access to licensed counselors, social workers and other mental health professionals.
That also includes adding more internet hot spots in underserved rural areas. Kentucky ranked 42nd in the nation for access to broadband internet, according to the Prichard Committee.
To that end, Simpson County Schools have provided 200 to 300 internet hotspots to families in need, McCutchen said.
The district also worked with local internet providers to install faster service. Simpson County Schools have been operating on a hybrid model with groups of students attending school on either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Definitely, internet and lack thereof has been an issue,” McCutchen said.
Child care is also an issue for families, McCutchen said, with limited child care available in her community.
“I think it’s really as simple as everyone working together for the common good of others,” McCutchen said of her community’s needs and others across Kentucky. “I think, this COVID-19 and the experiences that we’ve all had, it has touched all of us in some way.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.