No Vaccine for the Educational Crisis

It's critical for America to fill the jobs of the future

By Antonio Tijerino

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COVID hit the Latinx community with tremendous force across health, jobs, housing, financially, and in education.  Except there is no vaccine for the pandemic’s educational crisis which exacerbated the ongoing “digital divide” or as I call it, the Tech-Edquity gap, impacting the ability of our youth to learn or prepare for future careers.


Some simply zoomed out of education all together.


According to estimates by Bellwether Education Partners, up to 3 million students in the U.S. possibly have not attended zoom school since the pandemic and predict that between 10 and 25 percent of students in the most marginalized populations have completely missed out on learning for the past year and a half, many because of a lack of adequate high-speed, internet service, making it more difficult to learn.


The Hispanic Heritage Foundation did a national study which found that Latinx students were most likely to say their grades suffered because of a lack of access to broadband. These students were also most likely to say they could not finish their homework because of a lack of access to wi-fi, and they were most likely to use a smartphone to complete homework or fill out a college application. One of the findings was that teachers said Latinx parents were most difficult to communicate with because of the parents’ lack of access to the internet for email communication. It was NOT a language barrier. It was an internet barrier.


According to a RAND Corporation survey of teachers, 75 percent find “students’ lack of access to technological tools and students’ lack of access to high-speed internet” are serious obstacles to effective implementation of learning.


The median age of U.S. Latinos is 29.9 years of age, compared to the non-Latinx average age of 40.  A third of our population is under 18, which means that our young community tends to prefer mobile technologies and move around more, making us more dependent on wireless more than other groups. This is a key reason why wireless broadband should be an important part of any program to close the digital divide.


Black, Latinx, and Native students have dealt with bias and bigotry throughout their young lives from being most likely to be suspended to facing lower academic expectations and being least likely to have access to adequate wi-fi or a device, which have become vital to their basic education, and later, workforce development.  


According to the Pew Research Center’s Covid-10-era findings on Internet & Technology, 43 percent of lower-income parents say it is very or somewhat likely their children will have to do schoolwork on their cellphones and 40 percent said the same likelihood of their child having to use public Wi-Fi to finish schoolwork because of lack of access to reliable internet connection at home. More than one out of three say it is somewhat likely their children will not be able to complete schoolwork because they do not have access to a computer at home.


In my hometown of Washington, DC, “back-to-school” family surveys found that 60 percent of students lacked the devices and 27 percent lacked the high-speed internet access needed to successfully participate in virtual school.


This is an example of what the FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has called the “Homework Gap.”
The future of work is also dependent on how quickly we can get everyone connected to broadband post COVID. If this digital gap persists, studies show it will have negative consequences with 76 percent of Blacks and 62 percent of Latinx being shut out or under-prepared for 86 percent of U.S. jobs by 2045.  Almost 80 percent of new jobs over the next decade will go to a Latino according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


It’s critical, for America, not just the Latinx community, fill the jobs of the future and it will take connectivity to do that.


Beyond education and workforce, at a time that our communities need to be mobilized for social justice by being connected. Think about it, a 15- year-old Black, Latinx or å combined.  That is unprecedented potential … if they have the tools.

Antonio Tijerino is president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), a national nonprofit focused on education, workforce, social impact, and culture through innovative leadership.  HHF under Tijerino’s leaderhip is regarded as a creative, agile, impact-focused organization recognized by the White House, US Congress, Fortune 500 companies, other nonprofits and the Government of Mexico. Tijerino is also executive producer of the Hispanic Heritage Awards at the Kennedy Center, which are broadcast on PBS.