As an organization, Pathways to Education continues to focus on and monitor how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts the young people we serve. Even before the pandemic, we knew that youth in higher income families were in a better position to participate in online learning. Youth from low-income communities face unique barriers to their education during school closures, including lack of connectivity, personal learning spaces, and access to social, developmental, and academic supports.

In addition to leading to school closures, the pandemic has impacted youth-serving organizations that act as a lifeline for vulnerable young people. This has impacted their ability to offer out-of-school activities, address food insecurity, and provide face-to-face support with tutors and trusted adults outside of the family. Without these supports, youth with fewest resources and greatest stress levels may be most at risk of detrimental educational, social, and health ramifications related to extended school closures.

Ensuring that students have access to comprehensive virtual supports while social distancing measures are still in place remains crucial. Fostering a sense of community and belonging by encouraging safe online connection to peers, tutors, and trusted adults supports mental health and engagement during an otherwise isolating time. Helping youth from low-income backgrounds overcome barriers to education and reach their potential benefits all of society.

Top 5 Resources on the COVID-19 Impact on Education and Underserved Youth

The five resources below explore how COVID-19 has impacted education and underserved youth over the past year. We chose these resources because they offer critical insights into the impact of the pandemic on the development and academic success of students in low-income communities.

School Closures and COVID-19: An Interactive Tool

School Closures and COVID-19: An Interactive Tool

Highly educated parents, and therefore those with a higher socioeconomic status, are more able to support their children’s online learning by being better able to navigate the school system and more likely to be working from home during the pandemic. This has disadvantaged youth from low-income communities, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of school closures and online learning during the pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Prior to the pandemic, Statistics Canada found that children in higher income families were in a better position to support on-line learning. While only 1.2% of households with children do not have access to the internet at home, the figure is somewhat higher for households in the bottom 25% of the income distribution—4.2%—than for households in the top 25% of the distribution—0.2%.”
  • “Among households in the lowest income quartile, 63% had less than one device for each household member compared to 56% of households in the highest income quartile.”
  • “Nearly one-quarter (24%) of households in the lowest income quartile reported using only mobile devices for accessing the internet, three times higher than the share among households in the highest income quartile (8%). Households in the lowest quartile were also significantly more likely to use only mobile devices to access the internet than those in the second- and third-income quartiles (15% and 14%, respectively).”
Life During COVID-19: What Girls are Saying About Their Worries and Hopes

Life During COVID-19: What Girls are Saying About Their Worries and Hopes
Girl Guides

Girl Guides of Canada surveyed high school girls to find out what was concerning them and what was giving them hope during the pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

  • The top three things respondents indicated being worried about during the pandemic were:
    • Education/interruption to school (64%)
    • Mental health (55%)
    • Family health (49%)
  • “The adjustment to learning at home, online schooling and the potential impact on their academic success are things that these girls are worried about.”
  • “Almost every aspect of girls’ daily lives has been disrupted and turned upside down by COVID-19. The lack of routine and missing out on face-to-face contact with their supportive peer network is proving challenging for the mental health of many girls.”
  • “While COVID-19 has girls worried, they are also finding hope and inspiration – from how communities are rallying together and the dedication of frontline workers to the support they’re getting from family and friends.”
  • Recommendations for how to support a girl during this time include encouraging her to advocate for herself, letting her know you are there to support her, and fostering a sense of community and connection by encouraging safe online connection to peers and family.
Racial Inequity, COVID-19 and the Education of Black and Other Marginalized Students

Racial Inequity, COVID-19 and the Education of Black and Other Marginalized Students
Carl James, York University

Dr. Carl James, professor at York University’s Department of Sociology and a member of the Pathways to Education Research Advisory Council highlights the schooling and education disparities experienced by racialized students and suggests ways to reimagine education systems in a way that makes them more inclusive and responsive to the needs of marginalized youth.

Key Takeaways:

  • “‘Before the pandemic forced a crisis in the education system, many school boards had committed to addressing systemic racism and inequity by re-evaluating programs, such as French immersion (which attracts a higher proportion of affluent, white students) and streaming (which routinely put Black children on a path to applied courses, which limit their options after graduation), that have disadvantaged students from low-income and racialized communities. Now with educators focused on the basics of opening schools, reimagining the system seems impractical, if not impossible.’”
  • “Reporting on the how the disease disproportionately affects marginalized communities, reporters Bascaramurty and Alfonso (2020) referenced one located northwest of downtown Toronto ‘which has become the epicentre for COVID-19 infections.’ They report that it is a community where ‘many students live in cramped housing, have parents who are essential workers and rely on public transit to get around, all things that contribute to the high infection rate – which is 10 times that of the least-infected parts of the city. The average annual income for residents in the area is $27,984 – half of what it is for Toronto as a whole.’ The high school in this community is said to have ‘the largest Black student population in the country.’”
  • “The point is, COVID-19 serves to exacerbate the inseparable systems of embedded inequities — of which education is a major foundational pillar — thereby adding to the problems of those most vulnerable to its effects in educational, social, economic and other areas. In any event, ignoring racial inequities and not attending to how the coronavirus and racism align, noting their specific effects on particular racial groups, will not produce the outcomes needed.”
  • “[…] Bascaramurty and Alfonso (2020) reference a Toronto educational advocate in the Latinx community saying ‘she worries about the way children from low-income neighbourhoods will fall behind this year if they are educated at home: They’ll be less engaged, it will be more difficult for them to finish their homework and, crucially, many will miss out on all the non-academic parts of school that keep low-income communities afloat, such as breakfast and lunch programs.’”
  • “We must build a schooling and education system that values, and hence serves, Black, Indigenous, other racialized and low-income students and families on the basis of their lived experiences, just as it does for white and affluent students. Doing so will benefit all of society since we will not see such failed citizens in remedial classes, employment insurance offices, hospital emergencies, healthcare facilities, police cruisers, courts of justice, and correctional institutions.”
Impact of School Closures on Learning, Child and Family Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Impact of School Closures on Learning, Child and Family Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic
BC Centre for Disease Control

This brief explores consequences of school closures and pandemic measures on the health and well-being of youth and families.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Interrupted access to school-based resources, connections, and support compounds the broader societal impact of the pandemic. In particular, there are likely to be greater effects on single parent families, families in poverty, working mothers, and those with unstable employment and housing.”
  • “Learning insecurity is exacerbated in homes with limited access to technology, multiple platforms used by multiple teachers requiring time and learning by parents and students, school differences providing effective distance learning, as well as home instability and overcrowding.”
  • “School connectedness is associated with numerous benefits for students including higher self-esteem and life satisfaction, lower rates of substance use and violence, participation in fewer risk-taking behaviours, increased likelihood of completing secondary school, and greater feelings of positive mental health.”
  • “It is essential that Indigenous people are engaged to speak to Indigenous ways of knowing and being and to their experiences – both challenges and successes – in managing school closures and the pandemic more broadly, the effects on children and families in rural, remote and urban settings, as well as to direct future work.”
Out of Sight: Vulnerable Young People: COVID-19 Response

Out of Sight: Vulnerable Young People: COVID-19 Response
National Youth Agency

This UK-based report explores how youth needs have been amplified due to COVID-19.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Many young people lack a ‘safe’ space, with privacy often compromised whilst in their home and disruptions to existing signposting and referrals to services. Others have been ‘separated’ from services that they had previously attended, as well as the social networks they had through school, youth clubs, and other community groups.”
  • “Over a million young people have self-reported mental health issues. There is a spike in concerns raised on Help Lines, with 84% reporting worse mental health following school closures and 26% being no longer able to access mental health support”
  • “Youth services are a vital life-line to vulnerable young people, joining in activities without stigma but able to access support, talk to a trusted adult or disclose a problem for help. Youth workers engage young people in non-formal education, out-of-school activities, and information, advice and guidance; with targeted or specialist work for vulnerable young people including those at risk on the edge of care, gangs or poor mental health, for example.”