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How the pandemic created long-term inequities for students

Sadly, many kids never returned to school, which will undoubtedly negatively impact their futures. It is our responsibility to ensure that no child or youth is left behind.

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Photo by Alexander Suhorucov

Written by Daria Essop, Park Street Education Tutor

“In any marginalized community, whether people identify themselves or not, affects us all” - Ani Difranco

When schools suddenly and abruptly shut down in March 2020, we could not prepare for its impact on all students and student life. We could not have predicted many of the outcomes that affect us today. Students more heavily impacted were those already marginalized and from vulnerable groups. These groups include students who are racialized, identify as LGBTQ, are low-income, from single-parent families and people with mental or physical health issues and disabilities.

Our daily lives quickly came to a halt, and many were left to struggle in isolation and fear, and we had no way of knowing that it would be nearly two years before in-person learning returned. The pandemic significantly diminished students’ ability to learn successfully and not just academically but also socially, mentally and physically.

Even before the pandemic’s global reach, students were experiencing increased anxiety, depression and a diversity of financial and other mental and physical health issues. The pandemic amplified systemic inequities, and many who were already struggling fell through the cracks, with many disappearing from the education system altogether. All the while, isolation caused others to suffer from further neglect, especially those with little or no support.

Students lost jobs, couldn’t find jobs or worked in unsafe and precarious conditions to survive. Of course, this affects the communities’ mental and physical health and well-being. Marginalized people, especially women and those in LGBTQ communities, experienced violence and abuse, along with housing, employment and food insecurity. Addiction also increased as services decreased.

When speaking to some of the students at Park Street, most shared that it was really challenging and stressful switching to online learning so suddenly.

“It was stressful and difficult to do, and we only had one computer at home that all of us had to share,” said one Park Street student.

Another said they really missed being able to interact with friends and missed things like doing homework together, sharing ideas and bouncing things off each other. Still, others complained about the lack of teacher support and felt they had to teach themselves. I remember the many problems encountered by parents and students with minimal access to school-provided laptops, affordable internet connection, and even finding a quiet space to learn, as many marginalized students lived in small apartments and could not afford much of what we took for granted pre-pandemic.

I saw some effects the pandemic had on my family. My youngest son did not experience the events that traditionally marked the end of high school. Many, like my son, didn’t attend prom, graduation ceremony or the last high school trip, which are significant moments in one’s youth. As the pandemic continued, many students did not undertake their first year of university or college in person but online.

Of course, this created anxiety and stress for parents (many of whom had to work from home while watching their kids), but the glaring pre-existing inequities magnified.

I am aware of people in my communities who aren’t able to access resources, seek help, are subjected to racial abuse and feel despair and loneliness. Online learning is not an option for every student, and many do not get the accommodations they need to succeed. As a result, they struggle to do as well academically, and some decide to drop out of school. Students also lost many outlets for mental and physical outlets such as sports, socializing with friends, and connecting with classmates, family and friends.

For young learners and teens, their whole social world collapsed as they couldn’t interact with friends, teachers or any support staff or accommodations they may have received in class prior to the lockdown. As at-home learning continued into 2021 and most of 2022, we lost many at-risk, marginalized kids who were likely already slipping through the cracks, often unnoticed. Sadly, many of those kids never returned to school, which will undoubtedly negatively impact their futures. If they were in a classroom, teachers and faculty could more easily see the problems their students were facing and offer them support.

The pandemic amplified inequities in our educational system, resulting in a loss of students, heightened anxiety and mental health issues. Many students fell behind and are still struggling to catch up both academically and socially to this day.

The pandemic, however, is also responsible for a more positive countertrend. People were reaching out to their community members in need and helping one another. I saw a lot more compassion and empathy. In my experience, professors and university staff were very understanding and tried to make the best of online learning. We benefited from seeing social media used for the greater good, and the communities really became more cooperative. It also allowed us to self-reflect, learn new passions such as cooking and finding time to read more, spend time with our kids and find creative ways to engage with each other.

These social and economic inequities have increased advocacy amongst educators and agencies, like Park Street, to stand up with the community against injustices and participate in the social change movement. This increased advocacy gives me hope for the future of our youth and a much better understanding of many of the challenges it has manifested for students from underserved groups to face and will continue to face in the coming years.

All those involved in the education system, including parents and caregivers, should be aware of these issues as a community. When Park Street launched as a response to these exacerbated iniquities, Park Street's mission was to ensure no child or youth was left behind. We continue to use this equity lens in our after-school programming and ensure all students have access to quality education and access to resources and support. It is to our benefit as a society since these young people are the future and will be better prepared to contribute to society and the world.

If you know a student who would benefit from a scholarship at Park Street Education, get in touch with us at

Daria Essop, Park Street Education Tutor

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(Photo description: Three hands laid on top of each other with wooden background.)

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