After March 13, 2020, I started counting backwards from the inflection point caused by our school going virtual. Just over a year later, I’m still counting the Days of “pandemic time” based upon the status whether my child is back in school, her family vaccinated, & this novel coronavirus has been suppressed — the Holy Grail of no new cases for a week here in DC. (It’s now Day 370.)
That light at the end of the tunnel is now in sight and plausible, born upon vaccination, but I do not expect my daughter to be back inside that school this term.
Screens were already ubiquitous in her life in March 2020, but over the past year they’ve become present and relevant in a way our smartphones, tablets, and laptops were not before, windows onto the rest of the world, from FaceTiming with grandparents do virtual classes and recitals to hanging out with friends.
We are far from alone, as this Washington Post story relates. We’re rolling with it, as we must, but I’ve been reflective today about what has been lost or gained for millions of kids & their families, particularly those who were left behind by lack of access or computing devices.
Heather Kelly, author of the Post story, encapsulates the dynamic: “Since U.S. schools began closing down roughly a year ago, the country’s children have been adapting, learning and getting creative with how they use technology. The realities of their day-to-day lives vary wildly, as have their relationships with screens. For some, technology is a savior — the lifeline keeping them in touch with friends and helping them maintain social skills; a welcome alternative to in-person school. For others, it’s a failed promise — unable to make up for the gaps in their education, their parents’ lost wages and their own mental health.”
Kelly’s reporting distilled a truth about this moment: a “year of everyone turning to screens has shown us the worth, or danger, of devices has less to do with screens themselves & more to do with how they’re used. What appears to matter most is the support systems children & their parents have”
The gross inequities and inequalities laid bare by the last year show that the digital divide isn’t the fundamental driver here. It is not just about the tech, though Internet accesss and modern computing devices are obviously essential to remote learning and virtual classes: it’s the missing social safety net for families.
The USA is the only country in our peer group of developed nations without paid family leave and child care.
As former OECD ambassador Karen Kornbluh said in February, “the US is off the charts among OECD countries in our social insurance, labor & family support funding. Other countries’ education systems counter socioeconomic differences. Ours exacerbate them.”
Whatever else can be said about its strengths and deficiencies, the American Rescue Act is the most significant legislation for children’s poverty in generations.
It will come too late to prevent generational harms for many of the innocent kids and teens who endured unprecedented stresses when their schools closed, borne disproportionately by those who had the least.
The USA should catch up with our peer nations and invest in paid family leave & child care. These social safety nets will unlock a LOT of talent & help tens of millions of Americans survive the next pandemic.
We cannot bring back those we have lost nor make up the time with family, friends, and teachers, but we can ensure there are more lifelines, life jackets, boats, & supplies to aid those caught up in the endless tides of disruption from wars, disasters, and climate change.
If we do not build in more resiliency, more will drown in the swift, rising waters ahead.