Do you know how many students in your classroom have access to computers and other digital devices outside school, and how many have access to internet to use them? And if you know students do not have access to devices or the internet, do you know why?
The digital divide is one of the more pervasive issues separating our students into the “haves” and the “have nots.” My colleagues at CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, have been studying this issue in depth and have valuable insight on what causes this divide and how it stifles learning and leads to the “homework gap.”
We know that successful schools make sure all students can benefit from learning opportunities driven by advances in technology. For example, these schools work to provide students who lack home resources with the devices needed to complete schoolwork and with opportunities to use broadband in school as well as libraries and other locations.
CoSN has found that students without home access to high-quality broadband connectivity are at a disadvantage, unable to realize the full power of digital learning. Only 3 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools say that their students have the digital tools necessary to complete homework assignments, compared with 52 percent of teachers in more affluent schools, thus, the discrepancy of the homework gap.
CoSN’s Keith Krueger and Susan Bearden recently joined the Learning First Alliance for a Facebook Live presentation on this issue. LFA’s “Elements of Success” report discusses this issue through the lens of equity.
Krueger and Bearden had valuable advice for teachers and administrators looking to improve digital equity in their schools. But first, teachers must understand why a student doesn’t have access—perhaps the student has access to a computer or other device, but the family may only have one device for multiple children. In other cases, a student may only have limited access to the internet through a smartphone.
Here are five tips they shared to help students and their families gain access to Wi-Fi and to use digital devices for homework and other out-of-school needs:
- Survey parents and students to find out the actual situation of families in your school;
- Contact businesses in your community to see if they would allow students to bring their devices and use their wireless Wi-Fi before and after school—remind these businesses that it doesn’t cost anything to be a homework partner, but has a high impact on students’ learning;
- Put Wi-Fi on school buses to recapture the lost time in travel for homework and learning;
- Collaborate with libraries or other community organizations—for instance, New York City libraries have a hotspot loaner program in collaboration with the city’s public schools;
- Finally, let families know about low-cost internet programs from major carriers, such as Comcast or Verizon.
There are lots of ways districts can think of innovative programs for students to gain access to the internet or to a digital device, says Bearden.
“The important thing to remember is there is no silver bullet—every community is different,” she says. “The reasons for the homework gap vary widely so it’s important for school leaders to think holistically.”
However, if a student does not have a device to connect, there are other ways to help.
According to Bearden, possible solutions include school libraries making laptops with access to Wi-Fi hotspots available for checkout. Also, schools can work with organizations that refurbish devices and make them available for reduced cost, such as PCs for People or Laptops for KidZ.
She also recommends using EveryoneOn.org, which coordinates donations of computers and other devices to schools, agencies and low-income families, and offers computers and equipment at reduced prices to schools and eligible organizations. The group’s search engine will return low-cost internet and device offers by ZIP code.
For more information on the digital divide and homework gap, go to https://cosn.org/digitalequity. For more information about research and best practices to achieve equity, got to www.learningfirst.org/elementsofsuccess.
Richard M. Long
Richard M. Long is Executive Director of the Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 12 national education organizations including AFT. Dr. Long is a nationally known advocate, writer and commentator on pre-K-12 issues and federal policy. Prior to joining LFA, he spent the past four decades working in education policy, including 37 years as the Government Relations Director for the International Reading Association. He also concurrently served as Executive Director/Government Relations Director for the National Title I Association from 1995 to 2014. He earned bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees from George Washington University.