Covid Creates Academic Gap for English Language Learners

Covid has had a tremendous impact on individuals, businesses, and industries. One group of individuals who has been greatly impacted by Covid and continues to be impacted is English-language learners, ELLs. ELLs are students who are unable to communicate fluently in English, who often come from non-English speaking homes and backgrounds, and who typically require specialized or modified instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses.  Educators and professionals can help bridge this academic gap by specializing in Literacy and Second Language Studies. 

Covid Impact on ELLs

During the Covid pandemic, we have learned that several areas have severely impacted ELLs: learning (technology and instruction); health; access to public assistance and resources and mental health. Each of these areas has contributed in a manner that has adversely impacted ELLs in their abilities to learn effectively.

The Covid pandemic brought to light significant learning challenges for families of ELLs that may result in academic and achievement gaps. Some of those challenges include a lack of access to digital devices and internet connectivity; families limited capacity to support online learning; school and family language barriers; and inadequate online learning resources and training for teachers. The pandemic also brought to light the need for educators who specialize in Literacy, NNES and TESOL.

Remote Learning Challenges for ELLs

At the height of the Covid pandemic, many schools were forced to close their buildings and resort to remote learning for all their students. The school closures resulted in significant issues to provide a robust academic curriculum for ELLs. Every student learns differently and having to adapt to a hybrid and online learning environment has been a challenge for many students, specifically ELLs. Many ELLs were used to interacting face to face with their teachers daily and turning to online learning was a major obstacle for some of those students. ELLs require an academic curriculum that tailors to their specific language needs and the change to remote learning did not adequately meet their needs. Moving to remote learning also required students to have access to technology at home and it was determined that many students did not have access to computers or internet connectivity. Not having devices or internet connectivity at home resulted in students not being able to access their school’s curriculum thus delaying their progress with their educational requirements. Many ELLs who do not have access to learning devices and technology may often get discouraged, which could lead to these students not wanting or being motivated to continue with their education. These delays in their educational progress opened an academic gap that was brought to the forefront due to the Covid pandemic.

Growing Need for Literacy and Secondary Language Studies Educators

Schools all over the country have begun to see achievement and academic gaps with ELLs and other students.  Because of this, teachers are seeking ways to address their learning needs. To resolve the academic gaps brought on by the Covid pandemic, many schools are now in need of educators specializing in LSLS, NNES and TESOL. By obtaining a Master of Education in Literacy and Second Language Studies, it can open the door to becoming a specialized educator who can assist ELLs on their academic journey.

Educators of ELLs will also need to work on their professional development to recognize the difference between an ELL falling behind because of the instructional materials or other factors such as lack of technology or family issues caused by the Covid pandemic. Completing the M.Ed LSLS online program at the University of Cincinnati Online will enable you to provide assessment and evaluation of ELLs’ reading and writing difficulties and this program will help guide you to learn and implement a variety of instructional methods that fosters the literacy learning of diverse student populations.

As school systems begin to plan for the new school year, the ongoing needs of ELLs will need to be addressed. Some of those needs include employing Literacy, NNES and TESOL educators; ensuring students have learning devices for online learning and providing instructional materials tailored specifically to ELLs. For educators and students to be successful in bridging the academic gap, continued partnership between the schools and the families must be achieved.

The Pandemic Effect on the Overall Health of ELLs

Another area that has had a tremendous impact on ELLs during the pandemic is their health. There have been several reports that indicate disproportionate health effects on communities of color, including African Americans and Latinos. This disparity is significant because Hispanic and Latinos make up a vast majority of ELLs in schools. Many African Americans and Latinos make up a high percentage of the essential workforce thus putting them at risk of contracting the virus. As essential workers, their benefits of sick leave may be limited. Many of them are uninsured and may have a fear of going to doctors and hospitals. Health is an important aspect of everyone’s daily lives and not being healthy plays a major role in your well-being.

Access to public assistance and resources is severely impacting ELLs during Covid. Many low-income immigrant families were left out of Covid relief programs because they do not have social security numbers and use individual tax identification numbers which were deemed to be ineligible for the CARES Act. Being ineligible for financial assistance causes emotional stress that is not only felt by the parents but also the ELLs. Not having access to public assistance sets these families further back in their goal of trying to provide the resources needed for their children to have a successful and rewarding education.

Mental health is a huge area of concern that needs to be addressed as well. The Covid pandemic is still causing insurmountable levels of stress to low-income families, communities of color and immigrant families. Fear of contracting the virus, school closures and not having adequate access to technology, job losses and social isolation are some of the issues these families face daily. In some cases, ELLs are the only English-speaking family members in their households and are responsible for speaking to landlords or assisting their parents fill out unemployment forms. Burdening these responsibilities causes considerable stress on ELLs who may also have to juggle these responsibilities along with focusing on their educational requirements. All these issues are trickled down to the ELLs who are the products of their environments and homes.

The Academic Gap of ELLs

The Covid pandemic has brought to light many inequities amongst ELLs and their families in comparison to other populations. Bringing all of these areas of concerns to the forefront, is the first step in ensuring the needs of ELLs are met in preparation for the new school year and years to come. In partnership with schools, the government, communities, and families, we can all make a significant difference. All of these areas addressed, although different, play a major role in ELLs academic lives. By tackling each area separately and getting to the root of the issue would significantly alter the lives of ELLs and eliminate the ever-growing academic gap between their peers. Focusing on the gap of learning (technology and instruction); health; access to public assistance and resources; and mental health; and resolving each concern will impact positively on the lives of ELLs.

How You Can Make a Difference

You can make a positive difference in students’ academic lives and help bridge the achievement and academic gap brought on by the Covid pandemic.  Contact an advisor today regarding the University of Cincinnati’s M.Ed Literacy and Second Language Studies online program and available graduate endorsement certificates in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and PreK-12 Reading Instruction.

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