Less affluent, non-white students over-represented in TDSB’s COVID-19 virtual classrooms

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Low-income and non-white families are opting for Toronto District School Board online-only courses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a higher rate than white and richer families, according to new data presented to administrators.Students from South and East Asia, those with lower socioeconomic status, and those whose parents did not go to university make up a disproportionate number of the 70,000 students enrolled in the system. TDSB’s virtual school this fall, data shows. .

Education advocates say the demographic breakdown underscores the importance of ensuring that students enrolled in online courses are not left behind.

“There is a huge need for additional support for students trying to cope with e-learning,” said Anna Katyn Chmielewski, associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

She says some of Toronto’s most disadvantaged students are enrolled in the online-only model, while teachers are struggling to quickly adapt their methods to new virtual classrooms.

TDSB students from high-income households were more than twice as likely to choose in-person instruction over virtual learning, according to this chart presented to school counselors at a school board meeting on Thursday. (TDSB)

“It’s hard for teachers to keep tabs on students who are struggling and who might be left behind, even more so when those students are virtual,” Chmielewski said in an interview with CBC News.

“This is the most urgent situation we have in education right now and we need to make sure we do something about it,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of the People for Education group.

“Children who are more likely to face challenges are also more likely to take online learning,” Kidder said in an interview.

“It is vital that there are more supports in place for these children so that they are not left alone. Otherwise some kids will really lose and it will impact their lives. ”

Kidder says it’s critical for the province to ensure enough funding is provided to hire specialist staff who can help disadvantaged students deal with the challenges of online learning.

“Kids who were already struggling are much more likely to struggle now when asked to work completely independently,” Kidder said.

“It is neither sustainable nor fair to assume that we can rely on families to [support them academically]. These are families who also have a hard time putting food on the table with everything else. “

Anna Katyn Chmielewski, associate professor of leadership and educational policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says there is a “huge need for additional support for students trying to cope with virtual learning. “. (Photography Lisa Sakulensky)

According to TDSB statistics, students from high socioeconomic status families were more than twice as likely to opt for in-person instruction than virtual learning.

Proportionately more students in South and East Asia chose to go to school virtually, while more white students chose to attend school in person.

Enrollment statistics seem to suggest that Toronto’s poorest families of color believe their children are at a greater risk of catching the novel coronavirus in school than wealthier white families.

This matches analysis of data from Chmielewski and his colleague Omar Khan, who found that in Toronto neighborhoods with above-average COVID-19 infection rates, parents were generally more likely to opt. for the home learning model.

“I think a lot of parents decided that school was potentially riskier for their children and for their children bringing the virus home,” said Khan, a refugee advocate and computer scientist.

He says parents are probably also worried about potential risks to their own health and ability to work.

The proportion of black students enrolled in the TDSB virtual learning system is the same as the proportion who chose in-person instruction. (Nick Boisvert / CBC)

The findings raise the question of whether the province and school boards have done enough to reduce the risk of infections in schools in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19.

“You have a ton of underprivileged children staying at home,” Khan said. “How do we get them back to the classroom where we know they learn best?” What can we do in these schools to make parents feel safe to send their children away? ”

Other highlights of the TDSB data presented to the Trustees:

  • 65 percent of students who chose classroom education have a parent with a university education, compared to 49 percent of students who chose virtual learning.
  • 37 percent of students who chose classroom education come from families with high socioeconomic status, compared to 15 percent of students who chose virtual learning.
  • White students account for 36% of in-person teaching registrations, compared to 14% of virtual learning registrations.

Statistics do not show a significant difference in the proportion of black students choosing virtual learning over in-person instruction.

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