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Half a world away, NYC struggles with remote learning, access to devices, technical support

In Asia, it may be surprising to hear that schools in the Big Apple are also facing challenges with remote learning.

Teachers in Indonesia are riding on motorcycles as they go the extra mile to bring classrooms to disconnected students without devices or the internet. Veteran educators in the Philippines are learning how to use Zoom to teach their students.

Following the Sept. 8 reopening of schools in New York City, an alarming uptick in COVID-19 infections led to swift color-coded school closures in some areas. 

According to data released by the New York City Department of Education, 52% of public school students are currently enrolled in remote learning instead of blended or in-person classes.

More than 525,000 New York City students opted for remote learning, resulting in a hybrid of in-person and remote learning in public schools. 

New York City is home to the largest school system in the United States. It joins many other school districts that have gone back to remote learning following increases in COVID-19 infection rates.

In the City that Never Sleeps, a technology gap is widening, with parents becoming increasingly frustrated.

iPads for everyone?

When COVID-19 closed schools in March, as with many schools in Asia, face-to-face learning came to a sudden stop. 

New York City’s Department of Education distributed more than 320,000 internet-enabled devices — including iPads — to students to facilitate remote learning and provided online guidance on how to use them.

Schools opened in September but many began closing in the following weeks due to COVID-19 infections. Many students still did not have the means to get online.

A school district in Brooklyn has over 1,500 requests for devices and internet access, according to New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, who chairs the Education Committee and is a former NYC teacher.

“Principals are telling me when parents call them asking them for technology and they try to order it, it’s out of stock,” Treyger said in an interview with FOX 5 News.

Photo by Reno Laithienne

For low-income communities in New York City, broadband access has also been an issue. 

Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) serves 700 students from low-income families in New York City. Of the 70% that have opted for remote learning, 30% of those students are having daily internet problems.

“They started falling behind back in March when we had to go to remote at that time,” said Yvonne Stennett, CLOTH’s Executive Director, to FOX 5 New York.

“The educational gap is widening, their ability to keep up and maintain the work is definitely at risk,” Stenett said. “I don’t know how we are going to fix it.”

Online with updating woes

Parents who received devices distributed by the city government say they are having trouble getting their children online for virtual instruction. 

There have been connectivity issues, problems installing apps such as Zoom, to getting homework assignments. While obtaining the device was simple, nothing else has been easy.

“Connecting to the internet took hours and a lot of troubleshooting, and then we had issues downloading the apps requested by the teachers for work,” said Alicia Cortez, a mother of two children in primary school taking part in blended-learning, in an interview with the Staten Island Advance.

“It said passwords were needed — codes and things we were never given. It’s just added stress on top of stress. It’s frustrating for the kids, too,” said Cortez.

With a daughter in second grade and another in high school, Laura Braun said their classwork requires Zoom. Due to restrictions on the device issued by the city government, she cannot download the Zoom app.

“They still don’t connect, and it’s limited to certain apps,” Braun told the Staten Island Advance.

To avoid tech problems with city-issued devices, parents who were financially able purchased their own iPads and laptops for their children. This year’s bill for “back to school” supplies were hundreds of dollars higher than previous years due to the need for technology.

Help is on the way

New York City’s Department of Education admitted to the technical issues. They say they’re on the case with making additional resources available.

“We’re expanding our efforts to bridge the technology gap and provide remote learning supports to our families in need,” said Sarah Casasnovas, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

With two children in primary school, Melissa Youngs Haynes said the government-issued devices her children received were OK last spring. But they haven’t worked properly since the devices needed to be updated in August. 

“Now we have problems connecting to the WiFi, opening Google Classroom assignments and meetings,” Haynes told the Staten Island Advance.

The school advised Haynes to contact the Department of Education’s tech support to resolve the issues. That was weeks ago. Haynes said the support ticket is still open.

LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.