Challenges of remote learning outweigh concerns over in-class health risks

September 18, 2020

Caption: The Pabon family, who came from Venezuela to make their home in Canada in 2019, are sending their two children back to school in-person after difficulties with remote learning. 

In the midst of back-to-school season, newcomer families are balancing concerns about health and safety with the difficulties of navigating online learning.

According to a new back-to-school survey by MOSAIC of more than 500 newcomer families, 72% of families said they needed additional support with online learning, while 45% of respondents identified needing support with accessing Internet or a device such as a computer or tablet.

Despite the majority of respondents saying they planned to or were thinking of sending their children back to school in-person, an overwhelming 70% of survey participants also stated concern for their child and family’s health with the return to in-person education.

For the Pabon family, that data rings true.

Johanna Pabon came to Canada from Venezuela in June of 2019 with her two children. Her daughter, Maria, is entering Grade 11, while her son, Eduardo, is entering Grade 6. For Maria and Eduardo, whose first language is Spanish, navigating online learning at home was difficult and frustrating – and for their mother Johanna, it was hard to help her children with technology she had never used in her own education.

“As a mother, it was difficult to help them because I did not have experience with online learning. The lack of tools for how to handle new, online programs was very hard,” Johanna said.

Both children look forward to returning to school in-person and seeing their friends again, though the family has concerns about health and safety due to COVID-19. However, the challenges of remote education outweigh the potential health risks for them.

“I didn’t like it because I didn’t have a teacher online, it was just homework and learning online but without having a teacher…and at the beginning my English was lower than it is now and it was very difficult to understand” said Eduardo.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a digital divide for many newcomer families, particularly when language barriers exist. In June, MOSAIC CEO Olga Stachova participated in the provincial government’s budget consultations and recommended the formation of a digital strategy that was inclusive to the needs of newcomer families in British Columbia.

The results of this back-to-school survey also highlight MOSAIC’s continued call to action and active work with partner organizations to remove barriers and improve access to digital and online services.

“We see, through our direct service to vulnerable clients, the challenge that lack of access to high-speed internet connection or a working digital device, coupled with low digital skills, and lack of fluency in English or French, can create in terms of accessing vital social programs and benefits,” said Stachova.

Using data from the back-to-school survey, MOSAIC staff in Family and Settlement Services will work to address the needs that have been identified and engage in ongoing advocacy for the wellbeing of newcomers. Settlement workers will also continue to work with newcomer families to ensure they have the latest local information in their own language as the pandemic continues.

To read the full survey results, click here (PDF).