SLIFE: Coronavirus Will Redefine Limited Education in SLIFE
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
SLIFE is an acronym that helps schools describe students with limited or interrupted formal education. These students are mostly EL's (English learners) and have experienced some trauma in their life, whether it be coming from a war-torn country, immigrating alone without a parent or both, or being a refugee. This is a limited list and does not cover all the scenarios, but they are a few. These students have many amazing strengths and backgrounds that they bring with them and although they have gaps in their education or have never been in a formal school, have exceptional life experiences that most will never have encountered. I have immense respect for these children and their families.
How will the Coronavirus redefine limited education in the SLIFE acronym?
Under the current circumstances, students have been faced with an interruption in their education. Although schools have done their best to ensure that students received, and continue to receive, an education while at home, unfortunately, it does not reach all students or is as effective for all students in the same way. There are so many factors that, as a result of these necessary closures, will lead to interrupted formal education for students who usually do not fall under this category.
Internet & Devices
First and foremost, there is the issue of technology and internet availability. Not all students have the internet speeds necessary for the type of online learning platforms that are being used, not to mention the fact that not all families have a device for their children to be on, especially households with more than one child all of whom need to use the device at similar times.
Many school districts have the ability to lend out devices to families in need which have been a great help during this time but there are always those who fall through the cracks. This is usually families with language barriers, or those who do not have internet or computers in the home, who then cannot receive information from the districts about these device loan-out programs because they do not have the technology to receive these communications to begin with. Therefore, they do not get access to the resources available to them because they do not know that they are being offered.
These students then miss out on the learning experiences that are being provided during this virtual environment and may go a month, or more, before they can get the tools they need in order to take part in the virtual learning environment. For students in ESL or bilingual programs, or for students who were already behind academically, this can cause their education gap to increase exponentially, leading to an interruption of their formal schooling.
Another reason why the current situation will lead to an interruption of formal education is that many students, however dedicated, just cannot learn as well in a virtual environment. They have difficulty grasping concepts without kinesthetic or hands-on activities. Although teachers are doing an incredible job learning new ways to engage students and help them as much as possible, some students still have an immense need to be coached one-on-one with the teacher by their side, catching their mistakes and finding where they struggle. This is difficult in an online environment. Many kids may just check out and give up out of frustration; not to mention lack of motivation.
Then there are the students who did not have an interest in school to begin with. Since they had to physically be present at school, they were able to take in some learning and teachers could help them actively participate. Now at home, this may be occurring less and less.
There are also the shy and reserved students who will not participate virtually nor have their cameras on. They feel worried about being on screen. Not to mention students who have been cyber-bullied and fear interacting with other students who are not their friends in an environment where breakout rooms cannot be constantly monitored. For them, this environment is like being in open water. These students also miss out because they do not have the teacher helping them work through their unease in a face-to-face atmosphere.
Lastly, and unfortunately, home environment can hinder the learning of students. For some students, being at school is their safe place. Being at home with their family, for an extended period of time, with more stressors than anyone is accustomed to, can, and has, resulted in higher levels of domestic abuse, whether verbal, physical, emotional or sexual. This completely inhibits a student and their ability to learn. We know as teachers that in order for students to learn we must lower their affective filter, which enables the student to openly take in information and gives them a better ability to learn. When the filter is high, meaning they are extremely stressed, anxious or afraid, they simply do not have the same potential to learn. This too will create a great influence on the student’s education and will affect how much of their virtual education they are truly acquiring.
There are so many layers to this new form of interrupted education which our students, teachers, and parents will be facing upon the return of face-to-face instruction that I cannot possibly outline them all here, because each scenario is as unique as the learner themselves. I most likely have missed many other instances in which a student’s learning will be interrupted due to their need for distance learning. Additionally, many of our students will have been faced with a trauma during this time, whether it is a parent, or both, losing their jobs, a death in the family, depression or anxiety as a result of the separation from peers and the fear of what has been going on, or any other situation where the student has been affected mentally by the current circumstances.
Both of these items together, interrupted education and trauma, fit the description of a SLIFE student, it is just that the students don’t fit the usual population of what we are accustomed to seeing as SLIFE students.
So What’s the Point?
This is not a piece that is against distance education. This is a piece to bring awareness to the fact that when our students return, we will need to re-evaluate where they are. We will need to treat them with empathy and not just pick up where we left off. We will need to bring mindfulness into our classrooms for the sake of ourselves and the sake of our students. We will need to look at things through a different lens to ensure that we meet our students where they are and help lift them up and support them in the various ways that they will need.