.
T

he COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated numerous societal issues—both related and unrelated to health—previously ignored within the United States. Low-income students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of an ill-prepared education system as the closure of schools have forced most of the 50 million K-12 students to an online system with no warning. This unprecedented upheaval of day-to-day life for families and their children is exacerbated for those with no access to a computer or internet connection. Even families that are well-equipped to handle these challenges can’t help but wonder what the future of education has in store. 

The most recent data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) claims that there are 3.1 million households who have school-aged children and no wired broadband connection at home. This issue of digital equity, known as the “homework gap,” was previously concealed by public Wi-Fi during the rise of digital learning. According to the FCC, 70% of teachers assign homework that requires internet access. Under the current circumstances the most likely suspects—public libraries, cafes, a friend’s living room—are closed for business. 

Perhaps the solution to digital equity in grades K-12 is purely economic and could be fixed by finding funding to ensure every K-12 student has access to a computer and internet connection for inevitable online work. Senior writer Mark Wilson of Fast Company argues how the three most valuable technology companies in the world—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—would be the appropriate suppliers for such an initiative as significant portions of their profits come from the educational platform market. Collectively, the three have enough money to supply eight $1,000 laptops for each K-12 student in America, but of course we don’t need these companies to donate 400 million laptops. Rather, the priority should be ensuring that the 10 million students (21%) who are below the poverty line have the technology they need to be on level playing fields with their classmates—not just during this pandemic but every day. Unfortunately, none of the big three have spoken out about any plans or intentions of contributing to the current educational crisis that COVID has aggravated.

Furthermore, cable and cell providers need to do their part to grant Wi-Fi access in all American homes with school aged children—even in rural areas. If companies are ultimately able to provide such services during this difficult time, it raises questions of why they haven’t before or whether they will continue post-pandemic. Is it unrealistic for cable and cellular network providers to come together and be a source for permanently bridging the digital divide? 

Even though closing the homework gap has become a priority for some state decision-makers since COVID-19 reached the US, there is a compelling discussion to be had about a new era of learning post-pandemic. Is online learning, or even the widespread incorporation of devices in the classroom, as effective as in person learning? The weight of this question is often masked by the “ooo’s and ahh’s” of a distant classroom full of tablet-bearing students. 

Any discussion of expanding agenda towards the expansion of digital learning should be postponed until the issue of digital equity is resolved. If this proves too difficult, school officials should use this pandemic as a welcome excuse to reassess and improve the future of learning by virtue of inclusivity and tradition. Having to quickly adapt to e-learning has given a glimpse to students, teachers, and parents of how different everyday life could be if the grassroots of our education system continue to erode.  

At this time, it is unclear whether or not the national government is doing anything to lessen the burden that COVID-19 has placed upon vulnerable K-12 students—a lack of clarity reminiscent of how the issue of digital equity has been treated in the past. However, Executive Director Peggy Schafer of ConnectME, a program aimed at educating the community about the importance of broadband availability and accessibility, claims that she has “certainly heard from more people at all levels of governments wanting to get digital inclusion projects done…this emergency stripped the cover off of this issue.”’ 

Hopefully these projects are permanent solutions and not merely band aids to get us through the COVID-19 crisis. While most teachers have fortunately had sympathy to their students who haven’t been able to get their work in during this time, seemingly because of this time, it is likely that the technological divide that vulnerable students will continue to face will be widely forgotten along with the virus.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is a DC Correspondent and a senior at the University of Utah pursuing her BA in Sociology with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Digital Equity Augmented: Mourning the Grassroots of Education

May 28, 2020

T

he COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated numerous societal issues—both related and unrelated to health—previously ignored within the United States. Low-income students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of an ill-prepared education system as the closure of schools have forced most of the 50 million K-12 students to an online system with no warning. This unprecedented upheaval of day-to-day life for families and their children is exacerbated for those with no access to a computer or internet connection. Even families that are well-equipped to handle these challenges can’t help but wonder what the future of education has in store. 

The most recent data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) claims that there are 3.1 million households who have school-aged children and no wired broadband connection at home. This issue of digital equity, known as the “homework gap,” was previously concealed by public Wi-Fi during the rise of digital learning. According to the FCC, 70% of teachers assign homework that requires internet access. Under the current circumstances the most likely suspects—public libraries, cafes, a friend’s living room—are closed for business. 

Perhaps the solution to digital equity in grades K-12 is purely economic and could be fixed by finding funding to ensure every K-12 student has access to a computer and internet connection for inevitable online work. Senior writer Mark Wilson of Fast Company argues how the three most valuable technology companies in the world—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—would be the appropriate suppliers for such an initiative as significant portions of their profits come from the educational platform market. Collectively, the three have enough money to supply eight $1,000 laptops for each K-12 student in America, but of course we don’t need these companies to donate 400 million laptops. Rather, the priority should be ensuring that the 10 million students (21%) who are below the poverty line have the technology they need to be on level playing fields with their classmates—not just during this pandemic but every day. Unfortunately, none of the big three have spoken out about any plans or intentions of contributing to the current educational crisis that COVID has aggravated.

Furthermore, cable and cell providers need to do their part to grant Wi-Fi access in all American homes with school aged children—even in rural areas. If companies are ultimately able to provide such services during this difficult time, it raises questions of why they haven’t before or whether they will continue post-pandemic. Is it unrealistic for cable and cellular network providers to come together and be a source for permanently bridging the digital divide? 

Even though closing the homework gap has become a priority for some state decision-makers since COVID-19 reached the US, there is a compelling discussion to be had about a new era of learning post-pandemic. Is online learning, or even the widespread incorporation of devices in the classroom, as effective as in person learning? The weight of this question is often masked by the “ooo’s and ahh’s” of a distant classroom full of tablet-bearing students. 

Any discussion of expanding agenda towards the expansion of digital learning should be postponed until the issue of digital equity is resolved. If this proves too difficult, school officials should use this pandemic as a welcome excuse to reassess and improve the future of learning by virtue of inclusivity and tradition. Having to quickly adapt to e-learning has given a glimpse to students, teachers, and parents of how different everyday life could be if the grassroots of our education system continue to erode.  

At this time, it is unclear whether or not the national government is doing anything to lessen the burden that COVID-19 has placed upon vulnerable K-12 students—a lack of clarity reminiscent of how the issue of digital equity has been treated in the past. However, Executive Director Peggy Schafer of ConnectME, a program aimed at educating the community about the importance of broadband availability and accessibility, claims that she has “certainly heard from more people at all levels of governments wanting to get digital inclusion projects done…this emergency stripped the cover off of this issue.”’ 

Hopefully these projects are permanent solutions and not merely band aids to get us through the COVID-19 crisis. While most teachers have fortunately had sympathy to their students who haven’t been able to get their work in during this time, seemingly because of this time, it is likely that the technological divide that vulnerable students will continue to face will be widely forgotten along with the virus.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is a DC Correspondent and a senior at the University of Utah pursuing her BA in Sociology with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.