Between Zoom mishaps, spotty WiFi, and sharing computers with siblings, the past two years have been a tumultuous journey for children in school. The fluctuating cycle of the pandemic has created an inconsistent, unpredictable, and downright frustrating educational environment for students, parents, and teachers alike.
Many students have faced a lack of access to not just devices and bandwidth, but customized, meaningful learning experiences. While there have been strides in transferring the classroom experience to an online medium, it has also created a new problem: sensory overload for children struggling to grasp concepts through a screen.
Research predicts that there will be serious consequences from the pandemic’s disruption that will affect children’s comprehension for years to come, specifically among Black, Indigenous and racialized communities, and especially in low-income households.
Several entrepreneurs are thinking of the future of education beyond the pandemic. With the support of TD Bank’s 2021 TD Ready Challenge, Canadian and American founders are spearheading innovative projects to create accessible and personalized learning experiences for students. Two charitable organizations led by trailblazing Black-Canadian women are addressing the concern of how to keep education engaging despite the distance.
Meet Camesha Cox, founder of The Reading Partnership (TRP) and Tamar Huggins, founder of Tech Spark. As recipients of the 2021 TD Ready Challenge, both Cox and Huggins are keeping the BIPOC community at the forefront as they address predicted learning loss in reading and math. On a mission to make e-learning exciting, TRP and Tech Spark are using research and first-hand experience working with BIPOC youth to provide targeted and culturally-relevant solutions in response to learning problems exacerbated by the pandemic.
As an essential pillar for youth and parents in Scarborough’s Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park (KGO) area, TRP is helping BIPOC children learn to read and write by engaging racialized families in high-potential, low-income communities at the local level. “Through TD’s support, this initiative will extend the reach of RPP (The Reading Partnership for Parents) to hundreds of families across Canada [to] support families who experience gaps in learning due to factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location, and now contend with pandemic-related challenges.”
But while Cox celebrates being one of the 15 winners of the 2021 TD Ready Challenge, she also points out an important realization: Black entrepreneurs have often been left out of the picture when it comes to receiving financial support for programs built to uplift their own communities.
“There have always been Black advocates and leaders (unrecognized and un/underpaid), with innovative and creative approaches and solutions to the challenges that our communities face, who have not received the support and resources to scale and sustain those ideas.” She continues, “The Unfunded: Black Communities Overlooked by Canadian Philanthropy report shared that Black organizations received as little as 7 cents for every $100 donated to Canada’s big charities. The Reading Partnership experienced firsthand the findings of the report. Despite its history and evidence-based programming, up until last year, TRP struggled to move beyond project-based support which limited our ability to plan long-term and reach more children and families through our programming.”
It’s a familiar problem amongst many charitable initiatives led by Black entrepreneurs. Without substantial financial backing, Black-led organizations will only be able to work project-to-project, hindering the long-term sustainability of the change they are tirelessly making in their communities. Cox’s success is outstanding, but moreover, it's a stunning testament to what Black entrepreneurs can achieve with prioritized funding.
Similarly, Tamar Huggins is making history in the education sphere. She is the first Black woman in all of North America to raise one million dollars using data science, AI, hip-hop culture and equity. Her organization, Tech Spark, employs culturally relevant solutions, like hip-hop and pop medleys, to help students grasp challenging concepts. “What makes our product so unique is our ability to take all the learnings students experienced outside of school, due to the pandemic, and tie those same experiences into the curriculum," explains Huggins.
Sharing what it means to be a recipient of the 2021 TD Ready Challenge, Huggins details, “This is a career milestone for me because many investors say they want to support Black women founders, however, when the time comes to give us what we ask for, we often hear a lot of back peddling."
It’s a double-edged sword that on one hand, Black entrepreneurs like Cox and Huggins are finally receiving the means to advance meaningful programs for BIPOC students, but at the same time, it's been at the cost of the prevalence of highly publicized incidents of racial injustice to the Black community. We can only hope that more companies will follow suit in moving beyond performative promises and actually put their dollars behind sustaining much-needed solutions brought forth by inventive Black leaders.