In the U.S. before COVID, the education inequality gap already existed. While the impacts of the pandemic are affecting all students' access to quality education, mental health and overall well-being, it disproportionately has impacted Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous communities. For example, since the pandemic started last March, data has shown that students of color started school in the fall three to five months behind in learning, whereas white students were only one to three months behind, specifically in mathematics. Students of color are also more likely to lack access to technology and resources necessary for online schooling as well as to live in areas that are continuing schooling remotely. This impacts learning outcomes, which results in a loss of educational opportunities necessary to build a brighter future. Therefore, COVID has compounded future outcomes for students who came in with fewer academic opportunities prior to the pandemic due to systemic racism and structural violence. Not to mention, research shows that almost 3 million students in the U.S. are missing out on receiving an education, which is a basic and fundamental human right.
The purpose of Sustainable Goal 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. For example, one of the targets of the goal is to ensure children receive a high quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education. While disparities in educational resources plague developing countries, the U.S. education system contains gaps in equitable access and well as quality of education and does not represent a “model” schooling system. Thus, SDG 4 is relevant for countries in the global north, including the U.S., especially during the unprecedented time of COVID.
While progress was being made towards achieving SDG 4, the education inequality gap was still very prevalent before COVID, both domestically and abroad. Taking the U.S. into consideration, many students’ right to education is being compromised because of the pandemic. Although we live in a world that is connected now more than ever, not everyone has equal access to a high quality internet service or other resources necessary to access Zoom and Google Classrooms. Aside from technology, students may also lack a safe or quiet environment in which to work.
The response to the pandemic in schools has varied across states and even down to school districts. Teachers’ unions have played a huge role in fighting to ensure schools do not reopen before it is safe. In fact, some studies have shown that teachers’ unions have driven school decisions about reopening more than infection rates in particular areas. Therefore, this brings into question whether or not school closings are doing more harm than good, especially if schools in areas with low infection rates can safely reopen. While saving the lives of teachers, students, and their loved ones is very important, so is a child’s right to education.
Many students are falling between the cracks and further behind than they already were. Therefore, while weighing the cost-benefits as well as considering what needs to happen in the future, SDG 4 should come into focus in order to ensure those students whose educations have been impacted receive access to high quality remedial education to get them back on track. SDG 4 is also important when considering the targets that were designed to be met in 2030. The UN has already reported that COVID has undone decades worth of progress on poverty, healthcare, and education. Moving forward, it will be important to figure out how to fix the negative impacts of COVID, and to invest in children’s education, both in the U.S. and abroad. After all, their futures depend on it.