Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the university professor, author and lecturer credited with inventing the term e-learning says distance learning’s worldwide embrace is widening the gap between privileged and underprivileged children.

Badrul H. Khan, a world-renowned speaker, author, educator and e-learning consultant and whose 1997 book “Web-Based Instruction” heralded the rise of distance learning, answered questions Thursday afternoon during a Facebook Live event presented by the UTRGV Graduate College.

“Educators have a responsibility to reach every child and our current times may actually be taking us backward,” Khan said in response to a question from Robert H. Doyle, a retired Harvard University dean and the U.S. representative to the International Council for Educational Media. Doyle asked the questions during the session, a Frontier Lecture series event titled “E-Learning in the Age of COVID-19: How the Educational World Was Caught Flat-Footed in Its Response to the Pandemic.”

Moving the discussion from college and university campuses to K-12 education, Doyle asked, “Everyone has moved to distance learning, it happened so fast, but does it help the children?”

“On one side it’s great that the children can continue their education from the comfort of their homes. However, this also increases the disparity in our social community,” Khan said.

“I am concerned it is increasing the gap. Our unprivileged children do not have the basic infrastructure at home to foster remote learning. This includes sufficiently fast laptop computers and fast internet,” Khan said.

In the U.S., many parents work, some are immigrants and therefore speak a different language than the one in which their children are being taught.

“They do not have the education to help their children learn, what are these children supposed to do?” he asked.

“On the flip side you have parents who have the means to hire a tutor to enhance their children’s learning. This also widens the gap with the underprivileged.”

Khan, who is from Bangladesh and a PhD., is an assistant professor at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. From 1994-1997 he was an assistant professor of educational technology and founding coordinator of the graduate program in educational technology at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Rene Corbeil, who was moderator for Tuesday’s program, was a research assistant on “Web-Based Technology,” which was published in 1997 and has been translated into 22 languages, his wife Maria Elena Corbeil said in introducing him.

The Corbeils run the graduate program in educational technology, which offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.