COVID-19: The long-term socio-economic gap facing poor and developing countries.

BY R.D. Miller

The humanity of education:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious implications beyond the spread of the illness itself and efforts to quarantine or social distancing. Many have lost their jobs, companies have closed or sales have gone down. With over a million people die and another 70 million infected and rising, there are several untold and unseen consequences.  

coronavirus under the microscope.

Unfortunately, many lower-income families in impoverished communities in poor and developing countries do not have access to the global space of learning to rebound on par with the rest of the rich counties, states, school districts. Several classrooms already needed an upgrade before the pandemic.

Many are already crowded, low performance, old run-down buildings deemed unsafe for both children and teachers; including a high student-teacher ratio. In some of these school systems, students had to attend schools in morning and afternoon shifts.

Though it is not an effortless task, the pandemic has exposed how fragile economies were, and the lack of focus on the educational system before the pandemic.

Experts noted these students will miss out on face-to-face socialization process critical to the child’s development, as until this global health pandemic, run its course.

Reports have shown several schools who conducted classes following the guidelines of social distancing and mask, later had to close from new infections. In addition, these schools have the resources, from proper ventilation, adequate classroom size.

While discussions between communities about what is the best course of action to mitigate the effects of science, politics, vaccination and resources regarding fair distribution. The reality for many impoverished nations this remains a complex issue, and where some may not or have a classroom to return because of the lack the critical resources.

Photo by Pixabay

Besides that, many will refuse the vaccine for cultural, religious reasons and a history of distrust in fear of being used for its development. However, hidden between the clinical trials, vaccination, hesitations, death toll, and infections that have been increasing; hunger, poverty, and starvation is killing millions, and this crisis seems to have taken a back seat or being overshadowed by many communities

What this pandemic has taught us is that the educational system is about teaching all regardless of race, sex, creed, culture, or socioeconomic status, and to build a nation and humanity, that will create a change in bringing our society to a perfect union.

Beyond the vaccine, science, and politics.

This forecast looks worse for impoverished nations and though it may not relate to a teacher’s engagement in this new normal distance learning, hybrid, but behind a camera, computer screen tucked away on a kitchen counter, at a cafe, or a corner office, and beyond the articles, opinions, COVID-19 occupy two different worlds.

While there have been political debates and promises about the COVID-19 stimulus package, or money distributed as reported in certain areas that lasted a trip to a local grocery store, and where elections have been won or lost because of pandemic management.

Unfortunately, many politicians are adept at winning elections, and then they learn the difference between campaigning and governing. Government is about accomplishing things, and usually a lot harder than being a politician. Some have limited skills, and we give them more tasks than they can do.

We have seen several political leaders issued tablets in many of these poor and developing regions, and it is a step in the promising direction, but that is where it stops. There is no access to the internet or resources to pay for access.

Technology experts noted though they may provide access regarding learning from a remote location, it lacks a keyboard, mouse, low processor, and limited research capabilities to work on projects. There are many young students out of the classroom and on to the streets to find their way. 

Poverty is like a dial-up speed to upload and download life’s journey, and it has held many students back.  It is a fact that COVID-19 has already shown signs that it is affecting school achievement, as experts have noticed. Reports have shown students since COVID-19 failing at an alarming rate. A recent test assessment showed lower scores for math, reading, and science.

The economic reality that cannot be masked

Before COVID-19, many poor and developing countries were struggling and risking high tides across the treacherous ocean as refugees to traveling to countries for an economic anchorage in an empty classroom anywhere. These systemic disparities today need a new fiber-optic connection to link hunger, education, and the pandemic into a single package on a long-term social contract like what they offer with your local cable company, broadband internet, television, and telephone.

Photo by Ahmed akacha

The middle class has equally been deeply affected, and the dreadful long-term reality of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty is appalling, as they expected poverty to increase, according to the World Bank. The report shows that between 70 and 80 million people will fall into more profound poverty. There were significant pre-pandemic disparities in many areas, like education, employment, and access to good, affordable health care.

On-campus or not?

In contrast to rich school districts that have adopted an excellent strategy with resources, new technology platforms, improved speed, computers, and uninterrupted access, virtual, in-classroom, or hybrid.

These wealthy districts’ parents often are more engaged, have the flexibility, and connection that can influence the next learning platforms that suit their schedules. And though there are concerns about students and teacher safety, as evidenced by the demonstration lines with the teachers and their union, that normally settles with the school’s budget.

On the other side of the city, even with access, this pandemic has devastated many families; especially minorities, people of color who have lost many families because of this disease. The healthcare disparities have caused more deaths in these communities, and whether online or in class, it will not fill the emotional sadness and gaps from any new classroom format.

Who will be there to comfort a student who may have to cope with a deceased parent or another family member to the disease? The fact is, COVID-19 already created a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Unquestionably, students missed their senior proms, hanging out with friends, homecoming, and sports, as experts noted, critical to the student’s social and emotional needs. However, this pandemic will not be measured on these things alone, or political polls, but on the gaps that it will leave in our society.

Besides, the further setbacks in their educational, social, and economic development; a good deal of may not even be vaccinated based on location, and access again will remain a barrier.  The only ones who may come out as the winner are well-connected politicians where questions remain about the accounting of COVID-19 donated funds as reports have shown.

In addition, the investors as shares of pharmaceutical companies skyrocketed, but one still must give credit to the scientist who has been working and got society to this point.

Today’s multiple caps teachers: counselor, technical support, financial resource, attendance advocate

Studies have shown that teachers have a lifelong effect on schoolchildren that help them to believe in themselves, but parents will remain the most influential individuals in a child’s education and development.

COVID-19 has tossed many teachers into this unknown glass room, where everyone watching, hoping to get to know these kids through their gadgets that are often foggy while keeping 20-35 students alert.

The online setting does not provide an ideal platform to recognize all students, unique strengths, weaknesses, and motivation levels critical to keeping them all engaged virtually. However, it is a balance given the risk for new infections as no one knows how it is going to turn out from the vaccine to new variants.

We can argue that these students do not have the responsibility to go to work, the only commitment is to wake up, log in and take part, but I can see how many students’ grades may suffer even if a student had a high grade point average, before the Pandemic.

The personal check-in disguised for a few days

I monitored a few classes over the past three months, and I realized how tough teachers’ roles are in this new normal. Undoubtedly, a bonus for the ones who are mothers with instant access to their children from exposure to COVID-19.  Time again you get that, “I’ll be right back,” wearing two hats, but I understand.

Photo by Bich Tran

Even working in an environment, protecting the public and with the latest technology gadgets, my platform has its ugly days. However, as the week passed, it became more painless, and occasionally someone pops into this visual space, and maybe a school counselor and perhaps from parental feedback.

The students’ opinions that may be formed for a lifetime, may not have any outside discussion from one’s political beliefs, socio-economic status, culture, race, national origin, and how few view other groups, and a misguided history from some of these selective lectures, where it appears key decades in our/their history pains kipped to a much rosier picture in that period.

Some teachers are extremely helpful and understanding, while others, once they complete the slide, please check the folder to reply. What about those who may not have access to a closed online slide from that day’s class to refresh because their connection is away from the comfort of their home at a McDonald’s? 

The question that I kept coming back to, if these sponge brains do not have an outlet at this age in the future to talk about any disagreement, questionable section of these Power Points is critical to their development at lunch, on the playing field, in the hallway walking to a locker.  Let’s hope COVID-19 does not set us farther apart when we are all vaccinated and can return to normal.

Where is mum?

Missing in the debate:  
Employment
Daycare
Slow or No Wi-Fi

These parents deserve more support and resources like community groups. Even to help with an assignment. It’s critical to recognize and respect that every family and child has unique needs. Many parents have become substitute night teachers of the abundance of assignments and emails. If they cannot explain the material being taught, how will they help their child with homework?

The experts also pointed out that parents take note: Kids, teens, college student mental health problems on the rise.

More withdrawn than usual
Eating or sleeping too much or too little;
Getting irritable mood most days
Lack of interest in activities they typically enjoy.

Logging out for the day with concerns, but remain optimistic

Parents must be conscientious of several pop-up learning platforms being sold as an alternative by offering free computers and dedicated support. They must investigate like any sequence-based surveillance, laboratory studies, and epidemiological findings to make sure it does not leave them with an enormous financial burden and it does not prepare the child for the future.

Also, the increase in fishing to lure students from the virtual classroom to inappropriate websites and the best internet security alone cannot monitor these sites.

As society re-balances, I hope this pandemic creates a do-over where everyone can receive a legitimate shot to overcome these systematic gaps. Times are rough now, but if we prepare with a new balanced approach, I remain hopeful because education belongs to humanity and not a country.


Photo Credit: Forbes

This Women’s History Month, let’s honor Portia Simpson-Miller, former PM of Jamaica`

By R.D. Miller

A Brief History: When we celebrate Women’s History Month, that should remind society of how far women have come since New Zealand in 1893, the first nation to give women the right to vote, and later Saudi Arabia, in 2015, as the most recent nation. Barriers will continue to exist in today’s polarized society, socio-economic inequality, gender equity, race and cultural divide.

The Politics:

Though few will remain silent because of political ideology, the Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller has defied the odds and contributed to the rise of women in the Jamaican government, and the Caribbean region today. Furthermore, her historical achievement cannot be summarized as a result of an electoral loss. She gave young girls and women a window to dream big, and challenge the odds regardless of political sides.

The Hon. Prime Minister-Jamaica Portia Simpson-Miller 3-2005–2007 and 1-2012-3-2016

Even though many of us are not qualified to speak on women’s issues, we are lucky to live in an era where the leadership evolution is multi-faceted – regardless of whether the leader is a man or a woman, but still, recognize the tough road ahead for women’s equal opportunity. So sometimes we have to take a step back, even if nobody asks, look at the barriers, analyze the mistakes, and give recognition to those who have overcome the obstacles in their journey for a better society.

The complexity of what is not being said

The nation acknowledged the historic rise of the former Prime Minister, but the opposition party took advantage of the frustration of young people who had a huge agenda that reached the majority of the electorate. They were calling for greater accountability, a better road map for their future, and it was a delicate time to change the guards from two decades of her party rule. Will they be better off between now and the next electoral cycle, only history will judge.

The 2016 election assumed greater importance than expected and there were plenty of finger pointing like any other elections. Some have argued that the party did not recognize the socioeconomic gap and the direction of the nation, which required more responsibility and transparency. Others noted internal struggles, and that she gave up the re-election to continue her leadership as the first woman Prime Minister of Jamaica, and head of the People’s National Party [PNP].

We do not know for sure what was given up, but it was a generational shift, led by a new leader who used technology, and promises to galvanize the younger voters. The once local street politics- door-to door moved to social media, and that generation was much older and more difficult to reach, but it does not take away from the centrality of women in the region future.

Sadly, when powerful women rule, pundits seem to have more questions about their leadership, and down-play their lack of collaboration only waiting for power. Though democracy thrives on open dissenting views. However, when political discourse becomes vitriolic, abusive, hateful, It only reconfirms the challenges surrounding their vision, and the deep reality of misogynistic views that creates more barriers.

The bloggers and pundits were swift on social media. She was too soft, too demanding, and no longer focused and emotionally detached from the community and so on, but few talked about the fact that political parties often interfere with women’s ability to run as candidates. They are confronted with stereotypes that impedes their upward mobility, thereby, contributing to the ongoing fight for gender equality.

Naturally, some people were irritated by their economic conditions, crime, and the lack of opportunity for the youths who graduated from universities with massive students loans, high inflation, unemployment and a widening gap between the haves vs. the have-nots.

Portia was no stranger to the ridiculousness and the intensity of the press. In 2004, newspapers, according to Christopher Charles, pointed out when she was a member of Parliament and asked if she had acted inappropriately by abstaining on a resolution that was critical of the lack of funding for local fire services. Maybe this question never got asked about a man.

Her time in power has highlighted a deep current of the disadvantages of being a woman on these battlegrounds, the fight for inclusion, shared priorities, leadership, rights, and security. But out of her loss created a new beginning that left a mark for a new light in the region for the next generation of women leaders.

The scorecard

Gradually, like many individuals who have suffered a ballot defeat, the policies that have been achieved often take time to gain ground, and the next leader will realize the benefits. Likewise, they may reverse policies that may not align with their side’s political philosophy. Of course, some will say that any downward trend in the economy, or increased crime, usually blames past leaders, but current leaders take credit for satisfactory results.

This homage is not about the nation’s expanding social disadvantage, or positive results on several fronts, and what party is responsible because there is enough blame to move around. Economic policy historians in the region will have the data to analyze GDP, debt ratio, wages, investments, healthcare spending, education, crime, infrastructure, construction, imports, exports during her term in office.

The administration represented a truck moving up a steep hillside, with few flats tires, and potholes on this journey heading to a smoother road until the next driver takes over. The rough ride was the aftermath from decades of deficiencies on both parties to produce a comprehensive strategy to navigate a systematic problem surrounding crime and poverty, and shrinking middle class.

Recognizing the former prime minister’s triumph is not a simple call to revisit or make an excuse for the provocative political nature that dominated that election cycle, or point out \what some called an inability to recognize the new voter’s concerns or a one-sided economic policy that only benefit the rich and foreign investors. This essay shines a light on the critical role of women’s leadership, and her contribution to the region, and for others to conceive of the possibilities regardless of political sides.

Every election has consequences

Though her defeat again echoed an undertone that women, whether a candidate winning an election, or served or serving in a chauvinistic environment, often when they lay the groundwork for opportunity on those battlefields for inclusion, shared priorities, women’s rights, gay rights and security, protecting the environment and without disguise, often experienced strong resistance.

Even today, women are underrepresented and make up about 20% of the world’s parliaments and even less in ministerial positions, as most studies show according to the experts. And I don’t need to do a thorough analysis or review feminist literature as a man to see that decision-making by several women remains a delicate balance often faced with more resistance than their male colleagues.

Sure, the region’s historians and scholars will have the task to resolve these questions.

Did her leadership differ from the other leaders?
Does her policy represent women’s interests?
Are there still echos of the same concerns today?

The quest for equality is not luck, as some in the media believe. Even if one is promoted, or by default, success depends on the preparation that met opportunity through hard work and dedication. Portia Simpson-Miller and other women who have made this planet a better place cannot only be judged on a few economic quantitative analyses.

Sure, one has to understand geopolitical, social, and economic issues and be able to link them to the corner shop even without electricity or running water. It is an incumbent mandate to work together to reduce high unemployment, corruption, crime, balance spending, investment more in education, health care and protecting the environment while managing expectations with respect to the realities of the local communities to educate that an election is not about now, but for the future generation.

The cultural stigma that lingers:

Sadly, the political pride that developed out of colonialism has led some to believe a leader has to graduate from an elite university, hold a law degree, or a Ph.D. studies to lead, and that mentality has pushed certain ideology from outdated laws in government into a class system. However, her triumph proves that one can be less privileged and become a leader from humble beginnings.

The elephant in the room

She took part at the top, and many to come will have the legislative power that will benefit the country, and only if they have the independence to think freely like her, speak loudly, and without being caged, they too can represent the nation not only in numbers to say, we are here, then the systemic issues can be addressed. The shortcoming in her political leadership does not lessen her political tenacity, decades of public service, and other accomplishments.

She found a balance between hope and subjugation and has been saying, “yes she could” before U.S. President Obama, “Yes we can.” She committed herself to the public for decades and has shown that women with power and full participation in decision-making establish a better society.

The Region’s Prime Ministers club to-date.

Eugenia Charles, 1980 – 1995 Dominica
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, 2010 – 2015 Trinidad and Tobago

Woman Coalition Remains Key to breaking the glass ceiling:

As studies have shown when women work together and identify issues that create positive relationships between women, society benefits. I have no vote, no political affiliation, no preference on who should run the country. The only hope this part of our heritage has “good governance” to move people up.

Women meeting in my family home

Despite the challenges, constraints, political calculations and even disagreements, each Women’s Month she should be recognized, including her birthday, because the achievements can’t be summed up by an election, but the mark left behind– for young women to dream and get that coat.

Thank you: The Honorable Simpson-Miller was a pioneer, despite the missed parades she inspired a generations to take on more leadership roles within government. Even lessons learned were fundamental to better understand the upcoming challenges.

If I may, you look great at 70, and the island of Jamaica should hope that you will stick around to provide more checks and balances, speak up- now that you have some time to look inside.

I recorded this on assignment: Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller and Condoleezza Rice, 66th United States Secretary of State- dancing and yes, reggae can create diplomacy.