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5 Ways to Tackle Learning Loss & Support Disadvantaged Students

By September 11, 2020

By: Ralph Smith, Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and Cecile Poyet, Director of Product Marketing for Philanthropy Cloud

The disruption to the school system caused by the coronavirus pandemic is clearly immense. With distance learning enabled by modern technology, we’re all adjusting how students access gainful learning. Despite all strong efforts by parents, teachers, and administrators, students’ learning loss is one of the unintended consequences of distance learning in a confined world.

In the best case scenario, one assumes that a student has a disposition to learn, the independence and discipline to follow instructions, with access to broadband and the requisite devices to participate. Any parent or teacher can identify major risks in shouldering students learning through a screen, a risk that’s compounded for those who are less fortunate.

Many families and kids rely on schools for a meal. Some may not afford the broadband capacity or extra device. Other children may have special needs or have language literacy barriers. Add to any situation the prospect of caretakers working in the informal economy or in low-paid but “essential” jobs; housing insecurity, or any of the many other markers of poverty-related adversity.

This learning loss is not only susceptible with all kids, but it will impact those in families of lower income brackets, immigrant communities, and those with requisite developmental or health needs. Slowing, stopping, and reversing the pandemic-precipitated learning loss is an urgent priority, especially in the early grades.

Student looking at mobile phone while attending school virtually

Learning loss disproportionately affects low-income children, some of whom might not have access to the internet or a computer.

While this may seem like a governmental and educational challenge, businesses can do their part in banding together to help alleviate the risks and promote a path for learning continuity. Here are five ways companies and volunteers can help slow learning loss and support vulnerable students:

1. Reimagine Employee Assistance Programs

Companies have an opportunity to reshape their employee assistance programs with pandemic parenting and learning loss in mind. Some employees might need immediate access to funds. Others require help in parenting, whether it’s child case facilities or subsidies, flexible time to take care of their children, or neighborhood makeshift class settings.

2. Expand the Ownership of Learning

Our expectations and overall approach to learning need to be reimagined to depend less on schools and more on a comprehensive education support system. In fact, we collectively need to reimagine the whole structure of learning. Schools can’t do it alone. Learning has to be owned by everyone, including corporations, nonprofits, government entities, and communities. Companies should also seek their employees’ feedback on what schools to support.

3. Double Down on Tutoring, Coaching, and Mentoring

Whether it’s helping your employees’ children directly or providing support to underserved communities, tutoring, coaching, and mentoring can make a big difference. Organizations such as Year Up and Genesys Works offer volunteering opportunities for people interested in supporting students from underserved communities. Their goal is to help bring talented young adults and top companies together to launch careers, power business, and build community. Tutoring, coaching, and mentoring, even done virtually, can go a long way to provide hope, support, and a sense of direction in times of crisis.

4. Encourage Employee Giving and Match Their Donations

Many employees welcome their company’s guidance when it comes to selecting effective nonprofits, so they can confidently donate their money. Help your employees by choosing five to ten organizations dedicated to minimizing learning loss. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, or CGLR, is one of them. Whenever possible, matching employee donations is a great opportunity to encourage employee giving, and also shows the commitment of your company.

Student gets help with schoolwork while attending school virtually

Supporting children most vulnerable to learning loss is crucial during this pandemic.

5. Build Volunteering Campaigns that Tackle Learning Loss

Corporate-led campaigns are even more important during times of crisis. Corporate social responsibility professionals can build campaigns that leverage their employees’ talent, passion, and dedication. This can include donations, volunteering opportunities, grants, pro bono work, and, whenever possible, product and service donations to provide access to the internet and technology.

Interested in building school-related volunteer programs and reshaping your employee assistance programs? Philanthropy Cloud is an all-in-one impact solution that connects employees to causes in an easy-to-use and centralized way through giving, matching, and volunteering tools.

For guidance on how to tackle the learning loss challenge head-on and provide your employees with effective volunteering opportunities, please feel free to contact Salesforce and United Way. We can help you build and activate programs in your local community.

About the Authors

Ralph Smith, Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Ralph Smith is a self-proclaimed “recovering law professor” and the Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR). He’s been forging consensus around ensuring that children reach the critical developmental milestone of reading on grade level by the end of third grade. The GLR Campaign is grounded in research highlighting the alarming number of children who are not reading proficiently by third grade and the long-term consequences for society.

Cécile Poyet, Director of Product Marketing for Philanthropy Cloud

Cécile Poyet is dedicated to product marketing for Philanthropy Cloud. Prior to joining, she built and led the co-marketing machine for top ISV partners and resellers at She has 13 years of experience marketing innovative technology for large and small IT companies, including IBM and Hortonworks.