US coronavirus lockdowns drain parents, expose ‘digital divide’

Tina Marie Burgio and her husband have two demanding full-time jobs, two small children and no childcare.

“We are so burnt out, trying to juggle it all,” Burgio, 40, says of her new normal of having to work, teach her children aged four and six, cook meals and keep the house in order – all with no support while sheltering in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past seven weeks, millions of Americans across the country have either lost their jobs or been required to work from home, all while trying to keep up with their children’s school work, which for many has gone virtual too.

Burgio, who lives in Austin, Texas, says her school district emails packets of up to 80 pages of worksheets and other materials for her older child on Mondays, which has to be turned in by the following Friday – a near-impossible task, she says, given that she or her husband have to supervise the teaching, and keep their younger child occupied, in addition to having to fulfil the demands of their work, which involves conference calls, correspondence and meetings.

“From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep we rotate in and out of the office where one works and the other takes care of the kids,” Burgio tells Al Jazeera.

With the vast majority of schools across the US closed until the end of the academic year, many teachers have scrambled to shift their classes online. But how this learning has taken shape, in addition to the expectations involved, has differed greatly across the country, with some schools relying on live instruction, using software such as Zoom, while others focused on assignments that are picked up at schools or emailed to parents.

Although most school officials have said that students would not be penalised for not handing in assignments, parents say they feel immense pressure to ensure that their children do not fall behind academically.

That stress is only compounded for families and students who do not have access to a computer, the internet or other tools needed for distance learning.

“It’s a lot of crying. I’m exhausted,” said Ashley Lueck, the primary caregiver of her two children aged two and nine.

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