Combating Inequity in Remote Learning
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
How Bay Area Students Are Sparking Change in Education and Economics during COVID-19
Amidst the thralls of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, social distancing mandates have forced parents and kids across the country to learn how to work from home. For students and educators, remote learning has presented its unique challenges in ensuring equity across a wide range of social and economic groups.
In YAPA’s COVID-19 Education and Economics program, students were given the freedom to pursue their vision for how education or the local economy can be changed in the midst of the crisis. Students would report on their research during weekly meetings to expert mentors and their peers and receive feedback to guide their advocacy.
“In this situation, students are working [to find out] how best to help students, how best to help seniors, how best to help small businesses, and what kind of a policy we can come up with,” said educator and mentor Gopal Kumarappan.
Kumarappan has been incredibly impressed by the students’ recent findings and results of research projects. The virtually unlimited freedom given to them allowed students to branch off in their own directions, whether it be the effects of mask-wearing and quarantine habits on the environment to global policy efforts.
“Each one of [them] came up with beautiful points in the way of presentation,” said Kumarappan. “I thought wow, that means they had everything, and they just showed up, so that's a great thing. I used to tell my friends, ‘Wow, they got these ideas and suddenly put them together and they're talking through it so boldly.”
Not only have the students been able to learn a lot about the topic, but the program has been a learning experience for Kumarappan himself.
“Everytime, I look into a different perspective because you all looked at the same problem with a different angle. I look at it one angle,” said Kumarappan. “But for each one of you looking at a different angle, the same problem, I [gained] a 360 degree view [...] I would say I learned a lot in the past 10 weeks”
With this wide range of both options for topics and perspectives, students followed their own passions and interests throughout the cohort. For high schooler Rohan Mansukhani, it meant finding a solution to the various struggles students go through during online school.
“When education and school is at home, you really start to get data on how people's home life is,” said Mansukhani. “That's really what was changing for me because I really see what people go through every day.”
Mansukhani began by focusing on a more personal level: how to continue clubs and extracurriculars more effectively amid the various challenges that remote learning provides. He researched various schools and their unique ways of approaching extracurriculars and classes during distance learning. However, it was difficult to find a solution.
“A lot of difficulty [came from] just getting to find a solution to my extracurriculars problem, like how it can be run,” said Mansukhani. “So I just went and approached my school and said, what issues are you having exactly? They told me the issues, and then I worked on the solution.”
However, after a few advocacy group meetings and feedback from both mentors and peers alike, Mansukhani’s ideas began to shift.
“We got one-on-one input from the mentors,” said Mansukhani. “We saw how other people are managing their projects, which gave me personally an idea where to take my project, what I should improve on, and what can I fix personally in my project from looking at what the others are doing and what the mentors are recommending.”
A few weeks in, mentors also invited speaker Jeff Wang to provide his own insights into education. He spoke about how different socioeconomic groups in particular may be struggling to have access to basic education, and encouraged students to reach out through tutoring programs. Inspired by Wang’s insights, Mansukhani initiated a tutoring program known as the Kids for Kids Foundation (KFK).
“That really changed my direction completely, because I found out that even basic education is not exactly available to a lot of kids right now.” said Mansukhani. “I'm using [KFK] to spread my research and approach people with the issue and the solution. Also, I've started tutoring through that. Basically, I'm able to press on each issue that I found throughout my research through the foundation.” said Mansukhani.
Mansukhani and his peers in YAPA’s COVID Education and Economics group have all synthesized their research and policy recommendations thus far into slideshows, ready to be pitched to lawmakers. Although the program nears its end, Kumarappan expresses his hopes for the group for the future.
“I think something big will come out of this group where they put their thoughts together, which will benefit them as well as the community around them,” said Kumarappan. “This is just a start. And you all, especially the students in this group, have a huge ambition, a huge potential, and beautiful ideas.”
Written By Elizabeth Lee