Kylie Addison Sabra
December 20, 2019
The Digital Divide Conundrum
Is the “digital divide” a new obstacle to educational equality–or is digital the solution? Educators continue the debate. The U.S. enjoys the highest usage of edtech. Seventy-five percent of classrooms have desktop computers, 59% use smartboards and 74% of students use smart phones. Yet, teachers continue to spend thousands of their dollars to buy books, materials, and duct tape to mend broken laptops. Exasperated by the stagnant investment in education over the last 30 years, some educators see edtech as a bridge. However, others see it as yet another barrier.
Not everyone can access the Internet
Some express concern that placing devices in the hands of every student only increases educational inequity for the 18% of students who don’t have access to the Internet. Let’s put a number to that. Twelve million students do not have internet access. The digital divide affects rural as well as urban families. Even if they can afford it, it may not be available. This inequity led Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to coin the term “homework gap”. She calls the homework gap, “the cruelest part of the digital divide.” The PISA tests confirm what we already know. Disadvantaged kids are at…well…a disadvantage.
Digital access is not the first inequity to plague poor districts and the homework gap is nothing new. The New York Times invited public educators to discuss conditions they face. Forty-two hundred teachers across the country responded. A Nevada teacher shared that she had six laptops in poor condition to share between 42 students. Students in an Arizona district are using 25-year-old textbooks. An Oklahoma teacher has only 25 anatomy books to share between 70 students. Additionally, her school discussed a four-day week to cut utilities. The disparities exist with or without the digital element.
Is taking tech out of the classroom the answer?
Some talk of throwing out the 1:1 initiative (one device in each student’s possession) in the name of educational equity. That approach seems as useful as tossing out torn and outdated textbooks with nothing to replace them. We can’t ignore the fact that students who can’t access the Internet at home score lower on math, science and reading tests. Even for those who do have access, schools trying to save money by implementing BYOD (bring your own device) policies may find that that device is a phone. It’s hard to do homework assignments on a phone. Nonetheless, we can’t fail to pursue the 1:1 initiative. To do so will put us even further behind technology’s quickening pace. Internet will become more accessible. If we work together, we can find interim solutions.
Industry is stepping up to narrow the digital divide. Since 2012, Verizon Innovative Learning has committed $400 million to helping under-resourced communities bridge the digital divide. Their vision is to ensure technology benefits are realized by all. Major internet providers offer low-income programs for as low as $5 a month, some of which are government funded. Ask questions before signing up. Offers may be introductory, with prices that escalate over time. Quoted prices may not include taxes and associated fees, which can easily double the cost.
The homework gap is “the cruelest part of the digital divide”. Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
Schools get creative to bridge the digital divide
Schools across the country are implementing these and other creative solutions to ease the inequities.
Is your broadband stretched to the max? You can set up controls that manage what traffic is allowed through. This is important during testing periods when traffic is higher than your broadband will support. Zen Techworks can help set that up.
In October 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the following goals: (You can check here for progress updates.) Earlier this month, the FCC acted to accelerate the deployment of broadband to schools and libraries.
- Preserve and advance voice service
- Universal availability of voice and broadband to homes, businesses and community anchor institutions
- Availability of mobile voice, and broadband where Americans live, work or travel
- Reasonably comparable rates for broadband and voice service
- Minimize universal contribution burden on consumers and businesses
The digital divide is an important consideration at all levels. Local and state governments are focused on making internet access available to everyone. Some locales are working with not-for-profits to make broadband available in public housing. Nearly half of the states have set up offices whose sole purpose is to provide internet for all.
Their world is a tech world
Edtech is necessary for student success. Will edtech increase or decrease the digital divide? It’s too soon to say. Nonetheless, finding detours around the digital divide is mandatory. There is more to the equation than what is spit out in test scores. Their world is a tech world and the stakes are higher than ever. We are doing more than preparing them for a sustainable career. We are preparing them to create the technologies that might well save our planet.
You can count on Zen Techworks’ managed IT services to help you navigate the technology maze.