A parents’ evening with not a parent in sight, well not in sight until you turn on the computer monitor. All the encounters were remote, webcams facilitating the contact between teachers and the parents of the students.
The timing of the sessions allowed for twenty-six five minute slots, every one of which was booked within a few hours of the booking site opening.
The remote nature of the conversations was intended as a precaution against the spread of the Covid-19 virus. It is hard to believe that it was not a process that was directly exclusive of the more disadvantaged families.
To have booked a slot at all for some subjects meant having a fast broadband connection to beat the rush. There were parents who tried to book and found the meetings with the teachers they sought to see had been booked out.
The website hosting the meetings is meant to facilitate contact from the complete range of platforms from high specification desktop computers through to mobile phones. There seemed no-one using a phone, the overwhelming majority of parents were using laptops.
A connection adequate for the sound and vision expected of a meeting requires a reasonable quality of broadband connection, something not possessed by many families.
There are families without computers, families whose mobile phone is their only means of accessing the Net, families whose package includes a limited amount of data. The Covid-19 parents’ evening was an event that was in practice inaccessible to those poorer families. In facilitating some there was an exclusion of others.
There was a deeper exclusion. Online meetings might have become the norm for middle class professional people, for business people, for people confident in the use of technology, they are probably outside of the experience and the confidence of many disadvantaged people. To appear in front of a webcam to discuss a child’s educational progress is an opportunity that many people might not welcome.
Parents’ evenings have always been occasions more popular with more advantaged families. One of the frustrations has been that the people whom you would most like to see to discuss concerns are those who do not attend such gatherings. Technology has only widened that gap.
In the summer, we had face to face meetings. We stood on opposite sides of tables and talked about progress (or the lack of it).
If people can go to the checkouts at shops, if they can go to the numerous businesses that have reopened, they could go to a building with spacious and airy rooms where distancing is no problem. There might have been a chance to meet some mobile phone users.