The Educational Challenges of Rural African American Families During the COVID-19 Shutdown

A new study by researchers at the University of Missouri and Saint Louis University found that African American parents in rural areas had a difficult time providing adequate education for their children during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Researchers interviewed a group of African American families in a rural midwestern town. They found that a majority of participants reported stresses from feelings of “sink or swim” in a digital world, without support from schools to effectively provide for their children’s technology needs. Although availability of the internet provided relief for many families in terms of adapting activities to engage children, it created two main challenges for low-income families, (a) fighting over limited electronic gadgets/devices such as access to phones, tablets, TV, and computers and (b) limited Wi-Fi connectivity.

“The pandemic exposed some of the disparities that existed and increased it,” said Adaobi Anakwe, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri and the lead author of the study. Dr. Anakwe holds a master’s degree from the University of Missouri and a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University.

The researchers noted that “many parents (a) lacked the technical expertise with the technologies their children were using such as Zoom and in the material children were learning and (b) had no access to training and support from professionals. Some parents lacked dependable broadband/Wi-Fi. These factors contributed to parents’ stress as they were caught in between the desire to support their children and the reality of their limited technological knowhow, and socio-economic status to provide reliable internet.”

The authors concluded that their study “suggests that the U.S. needs to aggressively address the Black/White digital divide, especially to ensure equitable access to academic resources and opportunities for African American communities. In a rapidly digitalizing world, reduced access to these resources can have irreversible long-term consequences for academic, social, and health outcomes.”

The full study, “Sink or Swim: Virtual Life Challenges Among African American Families During COVID-19 Lockdown,” was published in the International Journal for Environmental Research and Public Health. It may be accessed here.

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  1. It makes perfect sense that this newspaper would make these statements. I live in a city. I have many, many cousins who live in rural America. Some of them have university degrees and some just have high school diplomas. Most have 3 or more kids and range from 47 – 65 years old. As an example, one I spoke to last month is a certified accountant in a very rural area who worked in a nearby city. He is proficient with computers obviously. He was only 54 years old, but he could retire because he had worked for the State for over 30 years. When he had to work remotely when the pandemic hit, he decided to retire. They had only 1 computer with several kids in school. High school and college. An extra computer wouldn’t have mattered due to the slow and poor internet options in the area. It was impossible for him to work and his kids to attend classes with the only internet service they had. So I was excited to see an article that finally addressed rural America. I don’t know how my cousins have survived this as I haven’t talked to most of them in a long while. I would imagine their children’s education has fallen behind quite a bit. I’m lucky. My kids have finished their higher education and working.

    The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m white and so are my cousins. I can’t understand the statement “U.S. needs to aggressively address the Black/White digital divide” in this particular article. You were discussing african americans in rural America. How is it different for them as opposed to white people in rural America? Why is it always about race? Rich or poor, white or black, internet service in rural America mostly sucks. Another cousin (a younger brother) of the accountant. He works at a Walmart. Hates his job. He’s divorced and supporting children. He has no higher education. He loved farming with his dad and wasn’t a good book learner. He needs help as much as anyone. He’s not afraid to work hard. I think he just hates the idea of working at a Walmart at nearly 50 years of age. But you can’t make it on a family farm in America anymore. There are a lot of problems in America. I just don’t see why there are daily reminders of blacks vs whites. In the city, I can imagine the difference for many black people, I’m just struggling to see how you can write this article about rural America. In my state, many rural counties have serious drug problems. I see towns with new Dollar General stores and the local Mom and Pop store closed. Now the people have to drive to other towns or cities to get meat or produce. Again, there are lots of problems in rural America that I wonder whether you have the slightest idea of what is happening. Why else would some of them embrace a man like Trump. They feel completely forgotten. Many of these cousins are still Democrats because they have always been Democrats. But others have switched to Republicans. Just fyi, I hate both parties. Both parties want to keep the status quo and they want to keep us partisan so it stays that way. The media doesn’t care about rural America, or for that matter all of the midwest and southern states. If they did, maybe they would look at what is happening in rural America.

    One last note: Living in the city, I see nothing but white males that are homeless. I don’t know their situation. Maybe they got on drugs. Maybe they have mental issues. Maybe they just gave up. Who knows. But, do they get turned away from government services like HUD, because they are white?

    Maybe I need to start interviewing them.

    I’m concerned about America, especially concerned that we don’t think about each other as Americans, but only about the color of their skin. Personally, I think things are getting better, but journalists and experts seem to be forcing the issue constantly. Some of my cousins have had kids that are now old enough to be married and have their own kids. My aunts and uncles are having grandkids that are half black. They love them and they proudly post them on Facebook. I think things might have been different 30 years ago if me or one of my cousins married a black person.

    If my Mom and her siblings (11 total) who were born on a rural family farm of 120 acres in the depression era, can change, then I think there’s hope. And when I say change, I don’t know for sure what I mean. I never heard my Aunt’s/Uncles or my cousins speak negatively of african americans. But, they lived in white rural counties where it was mostly cattle farming. So they probably had little exposure until they got jobs in the city. Frankly, the only place they could get a job.


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