With school classes now online, the temptation to play virtual hooky seems harder to resist than ever. But new data suggests that the large portion of students skipping online classes isn’t necessarily the fault of teenage laziness or delinquency. Rather, low online attendance is the result of technological inaccessibility.
Across the US, in cities big and small, students in low-income communities are having trouble logging onto their online classes because of poor WiFi connection and a lack of technological resources. The Los Angeles Times reported that about a third of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) high school students were not regularly attending their online classes. In an effort to reduce the number of absentees, LAUSD has been quick to distribute computers and offer free internet access to its students after making a contract with Verizon.
Similarly, according to NPR, a survey of 896 teenagers by CommonSenseMedia created with the help of SurveyMonkey reveals that, overall, 41% of teens have not attended a single virtual class. For private school students, 18% of them are skipping online classes. By contrast, the percentage for public school absentees is significantly higher. The survey found that 47% of public school attendees have not logged onto any of their online classes.
Aside from social inequities, the CommonSenseMedia survey also cited worry or anxiety over coronavirus complications as a cause of decreased online participation. Over 60% of respondents indicated their fear that they themselves or a family member may contract the coronavirus and affect their means of financial support. Among teenagers of color, the ratio was considerably higher.
Even in the classroom, students in low-income communities tend to have more absences. Their reasons vary—sometimes teens have to hold down a job of their own to support their families or babysit younger siblings while their parents are at work. An empty classroom seat or an online no-show isn’t necessarily a student trying to avoid doing schoolwork.