Tackling inequalities in online and distance learning

Image: Sharon McCutcheon / unsplash.com

The shift to online and distance learning in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us – but especially on vulnerable social groups, who are facing different challenges due to school closures.

Students at high risk of early school leaving, children with special educational needs, low-income families, parents who have suddenly lost their jobs or found themselves working from home while taking care of children, are just a few examples of vulnerable groups who struggle under the current circumstances. Some of them may lack electronic devices or Internet connectivity, others do not get adequate nutrition; some parents may not have the educational level, language competence or IT skills to support their children.

When the above are combined with pre-existing disadvantages such as a migrant background or low socio-economic background, it becomes clear this new online and distance learning era is widening the existing inequality gap. This situation requires immediate response at different levels (school level, local and national level).

Ministries are taking action

The European Commission’s Distance Learning Network is an online community for ministry representatives to share their national approaches. On 30 April, a special live event took place on “inclusion of disadvantaged learners”.

The members discussed how existing policies and initiatives for inclusion can be adapted during the current crisis. For example, Poland has utilised an integrated learning platform, financial support for ICT equipment for pupils in need, the public media educational programme and more. Italy has focused on the continuity of the inclusion process for pupils with special educational needs and referred to the use of European Structural Funds for equipment.


In the European Toolkit for Schools, you can see how two schools located in areas with many disadvantaged learners have responded to overcome inequalities after school closures: Santiago Apóstol and Reach Academy Feltham.