The rapid evolution of technology coupled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic has greatly transformed the way education looks. In an effort to maintain social distance and slow the spread of the virus, many schools have moved their classes online. While this move was necessary to keep both students and staff safe from exposure to the COVID-19 virus, online classes pose a new challenge.
In the United States, there are more than 14 million people without any internet access and 25 million without the faster and more reliable broadband access. Students and citizens who are unable to reliably connect to the internet are continually left behind, a concept coined the “digital divide”. As defined by the ACT Center for Learning Equity, the digital divide is the gap between people who have sufficient knowledge of and access to technology and those who do not. As education shifts online, possibly indefinitely, it is important schools and communities look at the effect the digital divide could have on students.
What can schools do to help students?
The Harvard Graduate School of Education sat down with Lecturer Uche Amaechi to take a look at the digital divide in remote learning. Amaechi claims that in order to bridge the divide in education, schools must first acknowledge this issue exists. Further, he explains that schools have to consider the different circumstances of every child. For example, some children may have support from parents during the school day, while others have parents who have to work evenings and may not be as readily available to help their children with schoolwork. It is critical that the school is able to adjust accommodations for each individual child. On a similar note, he encourages teachers to utilize resources, such as parents, the students have at home.
Recently, schools in California have been searching for a solution to the dilemma of the digital divide as well. An estimated 1.2 million students in California lack access to broadband or a computer, with only 34% of students in rural areas subscribed to an internet service, according to an EdSource analysis of 2018 data. Some schools have started handing out paper packets and Chromebooks, along with USBs containing downloaded lesson plans. In my opinion, the best thing schools can do at the moment is to focus on solutions that do not require the internet in order for a student to succeed. These solutions could include simple lesson plans parents could follow or fun worksheets for students.