Immigrant families express strong concern for their children’s health and request greater technical support for online learning. Their needs are compounded by the fact that many immigrants are working parents who do not have the option to work from home. This comes as provinces face rising COVID-19 cases and report multiple exposures in schools.
A recent survey conducted at the beginning of the school year by MOSAIC, a non-profit settlement organization, revealed that 60 per cent of immigrant families were hesitant to send their kids back to school, citing health concerns as the main reason.
Now, just one month into the school year, many parents’ fears have come true.
Parental fears converge with school start
In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have been rising in many provinces, with B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer declaring a “second wave” at a news conference on Monday. Vancouver Coastal Health is currently tracking multiple potential exposures in nearly every school district under its jurisdiction.
Back in September, 500 newcomer families responded to the MOSAIC survey, with 80 per cent of respondents saying that their children’s health was their number one concern when it comes to returning to school.
The second greatest worry was the health of other family members, such as grandparents.
Lack of choices and support
Although less than half of the families surveyed were ready to send their children back to school, many families had no choice. 43 per cent of people surveyed declared that they were working parents. Among those working, 57 per cent reported holding full-time positions.
Relatively few parents, however, had flexible jobs. 60 per cent of working parents said that they were unable to work from home.
Juggling work and online learning
One Surrey, B.C., resident who wished to remain anonymous felt that she had been fortunate to have a relatively positive experience managing her children’s online learning during COVID-19.
She and her family have lived in multiple countries and recently relocated from Uganda to Canada. She has three school-aged children, all studying at the same private school.
She attributed her family’s positive experience to the “phenomenal support” of teachers and school staff at her children’s school and also the flexibility of her job, which allowed her to work from home.
“Without these two factors,” she said, “I think online learning for my family would have been very challenging.”
However, even with the support of school staff and the option to work from home, she admitted that the double task of working while homeschooling was taxing. “I’ll say that my greatest challenge was having to be the ‘full-time teacher’ at home,” she said. “Although all the material was prepared and provided online, it was necessary for me to access, administer, and help guide my children through their daily work, especially for my youngest child in elementary level,” she added.
“It definitely required full-time involvement.”
Technical help needed
This full-time involvement can be a struggle for immigrant families. As the MOSAIC data revealed, 73 per cent of families expressed that they needed greater support for online learning with their children.
45 per cent of families also said they needed technical support for online learning, such as access to internet services or access to devices like a tablet or laptop computer.
MOSAIC has considered the survey results and expressed its commitment to address the needs of immigrant children’s schooling, while continuing to advocate for the wellbeing of newcomer families.
In response to the survey data, MOSAIC’s focus is on helping immigrant families overcome the digital divide.
“We see, through our direct service to vulnerable clients, the challenge that lack of access to high-speed internet connection or a working digital device, coupled with low digital skills, and lack of fluency in English or French, can create in terms of accessing vital social programs and benefits,” said MOSAIC CEO Olga Stachova in a news release on the survey.
Recently, Stachova participated in the B.C. government’s budget consultations and has recommended the formation of a digital strategy that is inclusive to the needs of immigrant families.
Challenges of working immigrant parents
In addition to improving access to technology, more needs to be done to help immigrant parents be able to manage their children’s schooling while working and striving to improve their families’ livelihood.
Indeed, the MOSAIC survey further revealed that of those parents who wished to send their children to school, 28 per cent expressed a need for income support. At the same time, 16 per cent said they lacked support for after-school care.
More revealing is the fact that 43 per cent of respondents reported they were either actively looking for work or considering the possibility of looking for work.
The high percentage of immigrant parents seeking work combined with their expressed needs for technical support in online learning and need for income support and childcare, reveals a picture of multiple stress points for immigrant families.
Winnie Lui enjoys discovering the journeys of others. She is Chinese-Canadian and has spent her childhood living in Hong Kong and in Alberta, Canada. She writes for business, non-profit and academic organizations.