COVID-19 has exposed educational inequality

‘The coronavirus pandemic has thrown our entire education system up in the air, exposing the inequalities hiding behind it.’ In this piece, Zesha Saleem, 18, discusses the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on disadvantaged schools.

It is obvious to say that inequality is an issue rampant in our social infrastructure, wherever we look.

The divide is growing with each passing day; whether between the rich and the poor, north and the south or the old and the young. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the imbalance we see on a daily basis, especially when it came down to education. During the lockdown period, the stark contrasts between pupils up and down the country have been amplified ten-fold. Not only were we shown the inequality found within coping with remote learning, but the imbalance in the lives of young people up and down the country.

Before the pandemic, whilst inequality in education was an often-discussed issue, it was something usually contained within the four walls of the school building. No one really talked about classroom sizes, the variation in teaching resources from school to school or access to the internet and technology at home. You could argue that when it came to tackling inequality in education, the discussions were glossed over with generalisations and recommendations. How could you expect anything else from a country where some schools have had to raise funds for whiteboard pens and glue-sticks, whilst others can afford luxurious renovations of the hockey pitch?

We live in a country where, according to The Independent, the poorest students are almost three years behind their wealthy counterparts. This isn’t due to coronavirus, but due to an education system which has failed to support the most deprived. Throw a pandemic in, and it isn’t surprising that the figures are more than concerning.

After all, coronavirus has thrown our entire education system up in the air, exposing the inequalities hiding behind it.

A report by the National Foundation for Educational Research reveals some startling statistics to support this point. It raised particular concern about the impact of school closures on the learning of pupils from the most disadvantaged areas, suggesting (unsurprisingly) pupil engagement is lower in schools with the highest levels of deprivation. Of course, this is due to many factors, and is linked with inequality in other aspects too- including housing, jobs and access to technology and the internet.

Learning and lessons may have shifted online, but for the 1.3 million disadvantaged children, as well as an extra 20% who aren’t eligible for income support, that isn’t taking place in a quiet corner with books, pens and a well-educated adult at hand. COVID-19 has become a catalyst for education inequality in the UK, and it will take years to repair the damage caused by it.

When the pandemic is over, and schools open as usual, the inequality between the advantaged and the disadvantaged pupils will be greater than ever. Yes, for more than a million children in the UK, schools have become a place of safety, sanctuary and one meal a day, but we should be living in a society where no child is disadvantaged because of their socio-economic circumstances.

As we speak, recovery plans for the economy are being drawn up- I hope that the UK reflects on whether our current education system is ready for a post-pandemic world. In its current state, I’d argue not.

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