Victorian refugee and migrant children are missing out on school learning during lockdown

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Right now, hundreds of kids from refugee and migrant backgrounds across Victoria are locked out of remote learning because they don’t have the technology and internet access they need at home, according to the Refugee Migrant Children Centre (RMCC).

Research released by the Grattan Institute in June found that the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged classmates widened at triple the rate during remote schooling.

Now, as further restrictions are put in place across Victoria to fight the spread of COVID-19, many school age children are falling further behind in their learning.

The RMCC works with 10 schools across western Melbourne and under normal circumstances can work with children face to face to improve their educational and social outcomes.

CEO Alice Wojcik co-founded the organisation and comes from a refugee background herself.

“We’re filling a gap in services that I wasn’t able to access when I was younger,” she said. “We provide educational and social support to refugee and migrant backgrounds, through weekly mentoring programs. We do that in partnership with schools, with the families and with mentors. We all come together to support the individual needs of the kids.”

During Victoria’s first round of remote learning, approximately 70% of the kids supported by RMCC lacked the technology and internet connection they needed to access remote learning during the nine weeks of lockdown, preventing them from participating effectively in their education. They were also unable to participate in RMCC’s weekly mentoring programs.

“The government has been supplying schools with devices,” said Wojcik. “The [issue of] internet access hasn’t been addressed at all but in terms of devices, schools haven’t been given enough for the population of kids within schools who need it.”

‘In terms of what we’ve seen it’s hundreds [of children] who are currently going through this. If they do have a device, they don’t have an internet connection – [the entire family] are all potentially trying to stream off one mobile phone and data is expensive.”

“We’ve encountered kids who haven’t been able to participate in their education for at least 3 months. So the issue is a lot bigger than what has been stated [in the Grattan Insitute’s report].”

RMCC has now launched the Tech to Connect campaign to redress this shortfall. They have partnered with IAG and Optus, who have donated the first batch of laptops and 12 months of internet access to kids in need. They are encouraging other businesses to join them in donating technology or funds.

“A common misconception is that all kids have access to the technology and internet that they need for learning,” said Wojcik. “That hasn’t happened for under-resourced schools in low socio-economic areas. That’s what we’re trying to combat with this campaign.”

Wojcik added that this disadvantage has been lowering education outcomes for children well before the pandemic hit.

“The issue of [lack of] technology and internet access has always been there,” she said.

“COVID has just exposed that now.  A lot of schools these days have the children doing projects where they have to access to the internet to do research. A lot of these kids didn’t have that access. So their digital literacy is very low, which is quite concerning for later on when they enter the workforce because you need to have those skills.”

She hopes that the Tech to Connect campaign raises awareness of the problem and spurs those who can afford to help to chip in.

“People just aren’t aware that there are kids who are completely unable to access remote learning and support – they are so isolated,” she said.

“This is happening right now.”

Photo: RMCC

Sarah Jacob

Sarah Jacob is a journalist and editor and is currently The Advocate's Deputy Editor. She has written for a range of print and online publications across Australia and internationally with a focus on the environment and human rights. Previously she worked in conservation science and protected area management, and has completed postgraduate degrees in journalism and marine science.

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