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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Monday, December 18, 2017

Connectivity Is Not a Simple Yes/No Question

The digital divide is still apparent in schools throughout our country, and it can be
heartbreaking when schools with great hardware and connectivity are only a few
miles away from schools who have fewer devices and slow to no connectivity.  
With coordination, advocacy, and planning, more schools are getting better access.  

As schools gain access and teachers learn how to implement technology in
meaningful ways that extend outside of the classroom, the next focus tends to
be on home access and connectivity.  Many educators start by trying to find out if
students are connected at home.  However, a recent study by the Cooney Center that
was funded by the Gates foundation reported that “access to the Internet and digital
devices is no longer a simple yes/no question.  Whether families have consistent quality
connections and capabilities to make the most of being connected is becoming just
as important.”  The study went on to survey low and moderate income parents with
school aged children (ages 6-13) and found that

52% said that their access was too slow
26% said that too many people share the same computer
20% said that their internet had been cut off in the last year due to not paying the bill.

Initially, then, educators who ask a simple yes/no question might be convinced that
there is little problem for their students to access the internet at home because a high
percentage of them said that they had access.  In addition, accessibility gets clouded by
the definition of what it means to be connected.  Increasingly, low/moderate income
families are shifting away from broadband and to a wireless only connectivity.

Again, students might say that they are connected when they answer a teacher,
but this type of connectivity is most likely not enough to meet the demands of what a
teacher is asking a student to accomplish outside of the classroom.

Once schools realize that connectivity is not a simple yes/no proposition,
then it is easier to design more meaningful surveys.   Knowing the types of
connectivity that are found in a student population is the first step in brainstorming
strategies for learning opportunities outside of the school day.

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