A decade ago, Ireland suffered a financial crisis. Domestically, a collapse in property prices coincided with an international crisis. Tens of billions of Euro were expended in sustaining the banking system and a decade of austerity ensued. One lesson from those years was that economic growth brought prosperity to those who were affluent, and that economic decline brought even greater prosperity, as those who were affluent were able to draw on cash reserves to purchase assets at much reduced prices.
The principle that prosperity allows those with resources to do well and that austerity allows them to do even better is reflected in the education system in England at the present moment. In prosperous times, the affluent do well in English schools. Independent schools, grammar schools, state secondary schools in prosperous areas, there are numerous options for those with financial resources. In times of crisis, the gap between those with financial resources and those without cash balances grows even wider.
The closure of educational institutions, the sending home of students, does not always seem to have a detrimental effect on results. Going to the London School of Economics as an undergraduate in 1979, one of the apocryphal stories circulating was that when the School was closed in 1968 due to student unrest, the summer examination results were excellent. It was said that the students dispersed to their homes had nothing to do other than to study. In those days before the possibility of Googling every question, it was impossible to check the veracity of the story. It seemed a happy story, but not one that is being repeated in schools today.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought the closure of every educational institution. Except for a small number of children, for whom schools are providing care, every student is expected to be studying remotely, using online resources and submitting assignments online.
There are students who are submitting excellent pieces of work. Time and effort are being taken, parental support is strong, access to technology has not been a problem. Undoubtedly, there will be academic research into the progress of teaching and learning at this time, but the prima facie conclusion at the moment would seem to be that those completing the best work are those from the most affluent backgrounds.
Students without desktop or laptop computers at home, students without broadband connections, students whose only access to the online world is their mobile phone, are struggling to access the remote learning. Technology is only the first of the hurdles to be overcome; space to work at home, support from parents, money to buy materials, confidence to engage with the unfamiliar, all these put less prosperous students at a disadvantage.
The longer the closure continues, the wider will grow the gulf.