Though tech is a requirement for today’s students, it’s not a universal luxury. The recent spotlight on tech equity has brought the issue to the forefront of public discourse, opening up an important conversation about the need for new policies.
The pandemic has only brought more attention to the growing disparity among students. Though many had access to digital resources through their school’s library, these tools disappeared when they were asked to learn from home.
An EdWeek Research Center survey helped contextualize the issue. Only 62% of education leaders in districts with poverty rates below 25% said everyone who needed home internet access had it. In those where poverty rates exceeded 75%, the rate of access was 31%.
How can district and school leaders manage the digital divide, and how does tech equity reflect a larger systemic issue?
Understanding the Hurdles Ahead
It’s difficult to argue that technology has made a negative impact on education. However, its absence presents a clear issue — one that continues to increase in proportion to the country’s poverty levels.
Almost 30 million low-income students currently depend on their school for breakfast or lunch. These same children are expected to have digital resources that fall outside their family’s budget, already strained by a pandemic economy.
With these factors at play, tech equity may seem ambitious. Parents may be engaged with other problems, and students don’t have the means to amend their situation. Furthermore, districts are contending with internal challenges.
Educators are planning to build on hard lessons from full-time remote learning, and any gaps in that strategy will soon become clear. Is total online schooling an effective teaching strategy? Will the deficit in tech equity compound into something larger?
Fortunately, there are strategies that offer a potential solution.
Bridging the Digital Divide
There won’t be a sudden, revelatory fix that will fully address the issue of tech inequity. We’re more likely to see a gradual rollout that brings technology to underserved communities.
For example, in Louisa County, Virginia, a school district has created wireless mobile units, deploying them around the area. A family can travel to one of these places and upload or download assignments as necessary. The Louisa County district intends to host 32 of these units, providing a positive boost to a community that’s lacking in broadband internet access.
Another district in Prince George’s County, Maryland, has taken a different approach. It has enlisted parents and guardians to serve as their children’s tech support, providing resources caregivers can learn themselves to pass on later. These same parents also have the option of online tutoring if they’re interested in supplementary learning.
Beyond the implementation of wireless and units and learning centers, schools can take advantage of data to make informed decisions. By connecting secure datasets on absenteeism, homework completion and other relevant information, they have a more complete image of why issues are happening, what support might help and the efficacy of their chosen course of action.
Finding a Way Forward
Though technology may have created the problem, it may also hold the solution. Districts and school leaders are finding ways to leverage their digital resources and balance tech equity in the areas that need it most.
That said, tech equity isn’t just the product of mismanaged resources and rushed, ill-prepared educators. It reflects the larger problem of poverty in America, which isn’t easily addressed by well-meaning parents or teachers.
Even so, great strides have been taken toward lessening the tech gap. With sustained effort, students may enjoy a privileged education with all the resources they need to learn and grow.