We Need to Improve Education Equity at OHS

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Improving OHS support resources is imperative to increasing diversity and equity in the classroom.

As I narrated the picture book in my hands, my eyes darted again to the meeting participants list on my computer screen. I was concerned. It was the second storytelling class for migrant children that I had given since the COVID-19 lockdown began, in January 2020, but only seven eight-year-olds from my usual in-person class of 21 had arrived. The students who made it were connected on phones; despite their enthusiasm to participate, their video and audio lagged terribly, and I had to end the discussion early. I had greatly underestimated the difficulty of our transition to online learning.

When I began my own classes a week later, starting my spring semester at Stanford Online High School, I couldn’t help but notice how different my experience was. Illuminated in seamless, high-definition video, my instructor, classmates, and I had fascinating real-time discussions about the problem of induction, postcolonialism, and social contract theory from our respective locations around the world. My classes were flexible, accessible, and innovative – it felt like OHS really was, as a friend of mine described, the ‘future of education.’ And yet also the opposite.

My observations of the educational disruptions caused by the pandemic shift to online learning, as an instructor, have attuned me to the inaccessibility and inequity of the education I receive at my own school because of its online setting. Attending OHS requires laptop devices, high-speed WiFi, and the skills and knowledge needed to use technology. For those who are able to supply these requirements, OHS is indeed accessible and innovative. But for students who are equally academically qualified and would greatly benefit from an OHS education, yet lack the necessary infrastructure and digital competence, such as the promising, yet underserved students in my storytelling class, OHS is completely inaccessible.

But for students who are equally academically qualified and would greatly benefit from an OHS education, yet lack the necessary infrastructure and digital competence, such as the promising, yet underserved students in my storytelling class, OHS is completely inaccessible.”

— Jasmine Li

And as racially and socioeconomically marginalized populations are disproportionately impacted by inadequate access to technology, my school’s failure to address the shortcomings of its online system exacerbates existing inequity in education, perpetuating elitism. This is reflected in our school’s dismal diversity – the student body is only 0.7% Amerindian or Alaska native, 1.3% Black, 3.7% Hispanic, and 6.7% biracial. How can OHS be the ‘future of learning’ when it can’t fulfill the most basic premise of education – serving all student populations who need it?

The education ‘digital divide’ is, of course, a systemic issue that requires correspondingly large-scale changes to solve. But equity improvements on the school level would help. In addition to the current financial aid for tuition, I propose that OHS provide support for students to obtain the necessary digital infrastructure for learning, which could come in the form of need-based grants or issued computers. For students who are newly transitioning to an online school, more accessible and sustained support, both in technology and academic and emotional advising, is needed to increase success in online schooling. Above all, though, OHS must actively foster more conversations and awareness about education inequity. Given a commitment to improvement, who knows – one day, one of my bright-eyed former students might be sitting in an OHS class as well.