August 3, 2020
The digital divide refers to the disparity in access to information and communication technologies based on geographical, social, and geopolitical criteria. As students begin returning to school amidst the pandemic, those without access to ICT are left at a disadvantage, as they are unable to complete technology-based learning curriculums. With this, the digital divide has become a national emergency, forcing school districts to reevaluate the role of technology in the classroom and how unequal access to digital devices inhibits the success of underprivileged children.
Disadvantages of the Digital Divide
The widening technological gap has many long-lasting implications that make it difficult for low income and rural students to achieve the same level of educational excellence as their peers. Those with ICT hold a competitive advantage over those who do not, as their easy access to educational resources, online assignments, and overall grasp of technological programs increases student productivity in the classroom and provides a convenient learning experience. For students without access to these technologies, completing assignments may take hours, as a lack of digital devices in the household and access to helpful resources prevents students from completing the same caliber work as others. Some students may need to travel to secondary locations to work on assignments, an option that may become unavailable due to the pandemic.
With schooling going completely remote, access to technology remains essential to attend virtual lessons and complete assignments. According to the FCC, 20% of rural American children do not have access to broadband internet, making it impossible to implement a 100% online curriculum. To adapt, many schools are creating tangible homework packets to provide students an alternative method to complete assignments and receive feedback from teachers by mail. Despite this method, students lack the face to face learning experience and guidance they may need to succeed, putting them behind peers who have access to online lectures that allow them to communicate with educators more efficiently than those without technology.
How to Bridge the Gap
To lessen the digital divide between students to create education equity, communities must work together to provide resources for children outside of their homes and school. Public libraries, community centers, coffee shops, and other public areas can help bridge the gap by investing in computers for public use. Though many schools do not have the funding to provide students with their own laptops, offering digital devices and wireless internet access throughout the building to use before and after school provides underprivileged students with the resources they need to complete assignments. With the pandemic forcing many of these public spaces to close, implementing a program to check out portable hotspots may help children have internet access at home. Despite these efforts, there is much work to be done to ensure all students have an equal opportunity for success. A lack of funding in schools creates limitations with resource accessibility and remote accommodations. With online learning becoming the future of schools, closing the digital divide has never been more important.