After the growing spread of COVID-19 in America, many schools across the nation were forced to shut at the beginning of March. While homework and research papers are the least daunting challenges one could face in the midst of a pandemic, many students are struggling as school continues remotely. These students who were used to familiar routines and learning styles have been thrown off greatly. One week, they were carrying their textbooks to class and learning face-to-face, and the following Monday they were joining Zoom calls.
It’s not just academic settings that have been disrupted as a result of closures, though. Home life has been altered greatly, with rowdy children—often with working parents—home from elementary school and college kids coming down off their independence highs. Students used to the provisions of food and other important resources like the internet and computers are experiencing shortages in low-income homes, especially with the rising amount of unemployment.
As Plan International notes, “Out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, UNESCO estimates that over 89% are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university, including nearly 743 million girls.” Many of these children are jolted by the loss of routine and academic purpose alone. Once you factor in the amount of low-income homes with little access to resources like food, supervision without working parents and lost jobs, the issue at hand becomes much more pressing. Hundreds of millions of said girls are living in developing countries, and many are in refugee camps. Before the closures, many of these girls were lucky to even grasp such an education. Now, they are at an even worse advantage. Many of these children and young girls, along with their dire needs and concerns, are being ignored by the general public.
Plan International is certainly not ignoring their cause, though, and are on a mission to uphold their education. Plan is an organization devoted to the cause of girls’ and childrens’ rights everywhere, and now especially, when these groups are most vulnerable in this time of crisis and change. Health, sanitation, education, protection, just to name a few, have always been important causes of Plan International. And now, in this disastrous pandemic, they are staying true to their cause. They not only are raising awareness about these girls’ disadvantages with informational articles, but directly donating sanitation supplies and other means of sanitation like hand-washing stations in a time when cleanliness is crucial to survival. Protection being another cause alongside sanitation, Plan raises awareness to the growing violence and exploitation of these girls in the confines of home under these closures.
While one might not expect similar issues and lack of resources in their own nation, many of these children and girls who are struggling are in more developed countries too, like America. Despite being deemed developed, we are seeing record unemployment and school closure, and therefore facing drastic issues and lacking resources.
Alongside Plan International USA, we interviewed Rose, Plan Youth Advisor Board member and a student immensely affected by her school’s closure. Though she is from America, she is less advantaged than many girls in her nation. Being a first-generation student who had adapted to a stable academic routine at Princeton, she was displaced greatly by these closures. She found herself back home in Oklahoma, with her mother unemployed for weeks and a little sibling to attend to, despite resources growing tight at this time. And now, due to her lack of access to dependable internet, getting her education has grown difficult. Girls like Rose are facing struggles that often go unseen in this time, and organizations like Plan International not only intend to make her cause heard, but aid her and those in similar situations in this trying time.
Affinity Magazine (AM): To begin, tell me about your academic life before COVID-19
Rose (R): Hello, my name is Rose from Oklahoma City, OK. Currently, I am a freshman at Princeton University studying Sociology with certificates in Teacher Preparation and Global Health Policy.
AM:When did your school close?
R: Amidst midterms week and a few days before spring break, Princeton notified the student body about campus closure on March 11, 2020.
AM: What is your class format looking like now?
R: I am taking 4 courses, which have all moved to Zoom.
AM: Have you adjusted yet, and what is the hardest part about switching platforms, from live classes to online?
R: I don’t think I have fully adjusted. Some days are rather better than others, but I think it’s hard to balance so many uncertainties while also completing academic work. As a first-generation, low-income student, I came home to a few bumps, such as worrying about financial stability, academics, and babysitting my younger sibling. Switching platforms has been incredibly hard because there’s no real routine. Instead, I wake up, open my laptop, and now I’m in class.
AM: School allows many students to form a routine they grow comfortable with—how has your daily routine changed? How has the loss affected you, mentally?
R: I think I’ve lost a healthy routine. At the moment, I think everyone is experiencing some sort of grief with events and experiences that could’ve and should’ve happened. Personally, I have felt a bit unmotivated towards academics after losing my on-campus freshman spring experience. After returning home, I realized that although college campuses may often not be completely inclusive of all socioeconomic demographics or provide the detailed-needed resources, college somehow did, at the very least, give me privileges that I came to overlook. For example, the abundance of food, stable and fast internet, quiet spaces, and helpful friends all around were all things I often took for granted. Additionally, I think with such high uncertainties for college campuses in the fall, I know that many of my friends have experienced a decrease in mental health.
AM: Are you still motivated to work hard?
R: Personally, I had a very difficult freshman fall with moving away from home and adjusting to the academic rigor. So coming into spring semester, I was super excited and hopeful for a better experience, something to prove that I belonged on this campus. Though there were quite a lot of bumps in the spring as well, the pandemic made it especially more difficult to remain focused on my studies. I feel like as someone who is service-orientated and more interested in dissecting inequalities, I found myself not wanting to spend all of my time writing an essay or doing 50-100 pages of reading a night because we are living in a historical time-period. I found myself wanting to keep up with the daily news, spending time with family, and brainstorming financial plans instead of worrying about doing an assignment for a grade that is often too arbitrary and meaningless.
AM: Do you have more or less free time than before?
R: I definitely have more free time, but still somehow still not enough to finish all of my academic work.
AM: These closures have affected more than just the students. In what ways has school closure been tolling on your parents/guardians?
R: Currently, my Vietnamese immigrant mom is unemployed for about 7 weeks now as the nail salon she worked at is temporarily closed.
AM: In proportion to the pandemic itself, many view lost graduations and academic experiences as unimportant in the big picture. How would you respond to this claim?
R: I think that while it may not seem like a burning loss in the grand scheme of the pandemic, I think there is still validity in feeling loss and anger at experiences that were cancelled. This pandemic is affecting every community differently and, importantly, it is impacting many poor, communities of color disproportionality. While it is completely valid to feel anger and loss, it is still vital to recognize the privilege that many still have, which consists of home, food, and health necessities, and help those communities by social distancing and donating resources.
AM: What would you want to say to those fellow students who have lost such academic time and experiences?
R: Adding onto the answer above, I would want to tell those students that they’re experiences are valid, albeit this feeling shouldn’t be the only thing they are feeling. Use this pandemic as a time to understand and push yourself to do more than be comfortable about how our society is being run. The inequalities that exist didn’t just appear, many of us know that, but this pandemic is exacerbating the interconnected inequalities, such as income, health, education, and race. Play your part in social distancing and support your peers. And take care of yourself.
AM: Finally, do you have hope for a fall semester?
R: Yes! I am really, really hoping for an on-campus semester, but I also recognize that it is a bit naive to believe everything will be back to normal in a few months.
To contribute or find more information about what Plan International USA is doing to support girls and children during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit their site here.
Featured Image via Stanley Morales