Beck openly expresses concern over fate of more vulnerable students without connectivity

Sask Bulletin
May 27, 2020

Carla Beck, Saskatchewan NDP Education Critic

Saskatchewan NDP Education Critic Carla Beck was recently expressing her concern about the “digital divide” in these times of students having to adapt their learning to online, at-home delivery.

While calling on the provincial government to work with stakeholders to close the gap, which in fact is just part of what she sees as worrisome when it comes to the cutbacks to education spending in recent years. She said it’s only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that in all likelihood will only widen the chasm between the haves and have-nots in the province.

“The greatest equalizer we have in society is education, and the gap is only going to increase in the future. This situation we find ourselves in is an illustration of how important it is to have publicly delivered public education. It is one of the best ways in which we can at least buffer the edges.

“School fulfils so many functions that are not always recognized or even able to be measured because there’s a lot of grey in the whole education experience for our students,” Beck stressed.

Calling for the province to work with school divisions and teachers to ensure that every school has a technology equity plan and resources available, Beck maintained that when it comes to addressing some of the technology voids some students may be experiencing, it may not be purposeful.

“I’m not suggesting this is as a result of any kind of malice; it’s just not being aware of the reality that some students and families find themselves in. I would say 99 percent of the people making these sorts of decisions are simply unaware of the situation. Either way, the result is the same for the kids though,” she said.

Beck added that the main contributing factors are that some families in rural or remote areas have limited access to high-speed internet and there is also the socio-economic reality. Too often, Beck offered, the two intersect making the situation even more intolerable for some of those who find themselves marginalized to a large extent.

A registered social worker prior to entering politics, Beck has two decades of experience and acknowledged that the current situation causes her considerable angst.

“I legitimately fear for what the lack of connectivity with their peers and contact with their teachers might do to some of these kids. It’s not just the learning lessons or not meeting the outcomes that concerns me; it’s more about who has eyes on these children. So I worry very much about these kids slipping under the radar. I know a lot of teachers are legitimately scared for their students.

“These are kids who need extra attention and resources, and I worry about those kids not having the relationship with their teacher and their peers. Teachers know their own students and their situations, and if that connection is lost for six months and they don’t have access to check in, there is real cause for concern,” she added.

Beck referred to the current situation where schools are all but certain to be closed until early September, meaning the “summer slide” will be multiplied by three in terms of length. She can’t help but wonder what will emerge at the end of that time.

“I’m not naively optimistic, but I am hopeful that maybe this will cause all of us to sit back and really look at the equity situation. Perhaps somehow this can lead to something different and maybe better,” she mused.