How school leaders can erase the digital divide

During a Connected Educator Month webinar, Michael Flood, vice president of education markets for wireless provider Kajeet, outlined a multifaceted view of the digital divide.

The digital divide, Flood said, is not as straightforward as it might appear. Several components define the digital divide:

  • Access to computing devices: This involves device equity. According to Project Tomorrow’s most recent national survey findings, in 6th grade, 32 percent of students lack in-home access to a tablet or laptop. By grade 12, 27 percent still lack that access. Despite recent news coverage that highlights unique initiatives in which all students in a district have access to a personal computing device, more than 70 percent of students have no school-provided personal computing device. “What we’re really focused on here is students who have access to a personal computing device that they can use to advance their educational goals,” Flood said.
  • Compatibility and capability: Newer versions of software and tools are introduced with such frequency that they can clash with older hardware and systems.
  • Access to broadband: This concerns access equity. Whites (74 percent) are more likely to have home broadband than blacks (64 percent) and Hispanics (53 percent), according to 2013 data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. But this difference in access is driven more by economics than race, Flood said. Eighty-nine percent of college graduates have broadband at home, versus just 37 percent of those without a high school diploma. Broadband penetration is far higher among those with a household income of at least $75,000 per year (88 percent) than those who make less than $30,000 per year (54 percent).

Addressing the off-campus equity gap is just as important as ensuring that schools are equipped to give their students reliable broadband access and mobile devices in classrooms.

Extending broadband access off-campus lets students access and use open educational resources and other tools with more frequency, gives educators more opportunity for online formative assessment, leads to increased digital literacy, 21st century schools, and collaboration, and extends virtual learning access, Flood noted.

According to the State Educational Technology Directors Association’s May 2012 report, The Broadband Imperative, “out-of-school access to broadband by students and teachers is now arguably as important to the overall quality of the student learning experience as access at school,” and “outside of school, home broadband adoption rates have all but stalled since 2009, leveling off at 65 percent.”

Laura Ascione

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