Why Tech Troubles Are the Bane of Parents' Existence During Distance Learning

As if the 2020-2021 school year couldn't get more stressful, website crashes and login issues are making an even bigger mess out of online learning.

Mother and daughter using laptop
Photo: Igor Emmerich/Getty Images

Please stand by: We're currently experiencing technical difficulties. Sound familiar? For many schools around the country, the first days of remote school during the pandemic have been a flat-out disaster.

Public schools in Pittsburgh—which will operate online for the first two months—experienced login and platform issues on their first day back.

By 9:45 a.m on the first day of school in Arlington, Virginia, parents received a message that said, “We are aware that students are having challenges logging into their classes. We are working to address the issues quickly and appreciate your patience. We apologize for the difficulty families have experienced this morning.”

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) website was down for nearly four hours. Tech issues were reported in Fort Worth and Dallas, too.

And the list goes on.

Between website crashes, server issues, software problems, and issues logging on, the list of technical issues plaguing families dealing with distance learning this school year is not short—and, in many places, they all occurred on the first day back.

“A lot of districts are just wildly unprepared for online learning,” Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, told the New York Times. “Not because they’re incompetent or aren’t trying; they just don’t have the expertise to do this.”

But this isn't even the first time that parents have had to worry about online learning issues. Last spring, as COVID-19 spread through the U.S. and forced schools to close their doors, cases of 'Zoombombing'—where hackers can insert inappropriate or hateful content into Zoom calls—began popping up.

"It occurs when someone shares a unique Zoom link on social media or another public forum," Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark, previously told Parents. "Zoombombers can also find meetings to join without stumbling upon a link online. Zoom meeting IDs are randomly generated, and new automated tools are allowing Zoombombers to find more than 100 meeting IDs an hour to disrupt."

What's more, Jordan said that "the culprits might share their screens to broadcast offensive photos or videos or use the on-screen pen tool to draw suggestive figures. They can also flood the text chat feature with similarly offensive messages to other members of the call or target one person with provocative direct messages."

For parents, many of which are also juggling work, keeping up with their normal day-to-day, and potentially more than one child with a completely different schedule, these technical disruptions are just one more thing to worry about. One more thing that requires time and attention they might not have to give.

The pandemic has also shed a light on another major issue: An already problematic achievement gap and a lack of resources for low-income or vulnerable families. According to a new poll published by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the financial toll of COVID-19 is worse than we thought, with Black and Latino families being hit the hardest. And that affects education: 33 percent of families say they have "serious problems keeping children's education going." In Los Angeles, more than half of families reported problems with their Internet connection—or no high-speed Internet at all. And while some school districts are providing resources to help bridge the digital divide, there's no universal answer.

For teachers, students, and parents, this all adds up to the sad reality of school in the age of COVID-19. Time for a reboot?

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