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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Challenge to Schools and Teachers with respect to lack of access at home.

Here is an interesting quote from the 2016 Dept. of Education's Office of Educational Technology:
"Learning does not stop at the end of the school day, and access to digital learning resources should not either. According to a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, approximately 55 percent of low-income children under the age of 10 in the United States lack Internet access at home.  These statistics along with consideration of the amount of time spent out of school have given rise to concerns about a “homework gap” between students whose Internet connections at home are slow or non-existent—a problem disproportionately common in rural and underserved communities—and those who have home connections with adequate speed. They also give credence to the view that connectivity at home for students is an essential component of a 21st century education—not something merely nice to have—if we are to avoid exacerbating pre-existing inequities in unconnected homes."

As schools continue to digitalize curriculum, students need home access to collaborate and to access their work.  The advice of "go to Starbucks or McDonalds" or even "go to your local library in the evening" is not necessarily reasonable advice.  It is a question of access as well as a question of safety.

The digital divide of access to devices at school and access at schools is slowly being won.  As we move forward, though, the newest challenge of home internet access is pressing.   Ask teachers why some of their students are failing, many (myself included) would discuss the lack of submission of assignments.  However, some of these assignments are pushed out through Learning Management Systems like Schoology, Edmodo, Canvas, Google Classroom or even Google Sites.   If the class structure is set up around digital access, it can put some students at a big disadvantage.   Interestingly, sometimes this challenge does not appear in lower socio-economic schools as teachers realize that many of their students are in this position.  As a result, they are more likely to alter their assignment flow to take into account this lack of access.   In schools with a wide variety of economic groups, sometimes this problem goes unnoticed as the majority of students have access.  Of course, it is very hard to determine who has access and who doesn't as this statistic is difficult to gather and is rarely tracked by school districts.

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