In the blended learning community, educational equity is a growing concern in districts that use classroom technology. It’s an increasingly challenging issue because digital equity has expanded from a local, at-school issue to an at-home issue as well. Many classroom models today require not only that students have high-speed internet and a learning device to use at school, but also that they have these amenities when they leave school for the day.
Unfortunately, many low-income or rural families across the country don’t have internet access at home. A recent Pew study estimates that 17% of families with school-age children do not have reliable high-speed internet access at home. For nearly 5 million U.S. families, broadband is not affordable.
Internet access at home is essential to making sure that all students have the academic resources they need to succeed in school. According to Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, over 70% of teachers say their students need internet access in order to complete the homework assignment each night, a percentage that will only increase as more and more districts introduce digital learning into their classrooms.
This creates what policy-makers and education leaders refer to as the “homework gap.” Missing out on homework can seriously derail a student’s learning. Students who can’t complete their homework are at a disadvantage: they might get penalized for not finishing homework assignments resulting in a lower grade in the class, they miss out on the practice and reinforcement their peers are able to get at home, and they are likely to fall behind in class.
Another concern for families without internet access is communication. Often there is only one way for parents these days to communicate with teachers and school administrators: email. If parents don’t have internet access when they come home from work at the end of the day, the communication is severed, and key conversations about their child’s learning needs and development simply don’t happen.
Most classrooms around the country today have internet access because edtech leaders have dedicated a great amount of resources to at-school access over the past 18 years. The problem is that the majority of these same leaders have yet to address at-home internet access.
Administrators need to make digital equity a top priority, but it’s clear that the education community cannot take on this challenge alone. As Krueger asserts, educational equity “is a conversation that should involve several local partners, including mayors, chambers of commerce, community foundations, and other government and nonprofit entities dedicated to solving social problems.”
Educational equity should be a concern for everyone, not just education leaders. As Jessica Rosenworcel, commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, attests, “technology is making its way into every aspect of our economy and students require preparation for a world where computing skills are all but mandatory in the workplace.” Internet access at home gives every student a more equal opportunity to succeed in the digital age.
Strategies and policies should be made so that an adequate amount of resources can be allocated to this issue. Krueger believes that digital equity will not and cannot be resolved “until there is a substantial increase in funding to meet the unmet needs of school districts across the nation, particularly in rural districts.”
Access to digital tools is a necessity for twenty-first century students, and educational justness will go unresolved until rural and low income communities receive equitable resources.