When we talk about digital equity, the conversation often focuses on providing opportunities for all students to learn in an increasingly connected world. We talk about devices and home connectivity. We talk the importance of parental support. We talk about training all educators to integrate digital tools in their classrooms in meaningful ways.
Seldom, though, does the conversation focus on ensuring that parents acquire the same skills we want for our students.
But when schools support students in transferring their skills to their parents, they are narrowing the digital divide.
Studies have shown that in higher-income households, where parents have higher levels of tech proficiency, many parents educate their children on various uses of the internet and online applications. In lower income households, parents still do some of the educating, but their children often provide a significant amount of help.
Why is this significant? When low-income parents start learning online skills, such as accessing medical records and applying for jobs, their chances for a better standard of living increase.
When a school sends a laptop home with a student, it might be the first computer that household has ever had. Even in districts where student do not take home their school-issued computers, many students still offer computer guidance to their parents at places like public libraries.
These families can use these skills to tap into government programs, seek educational opportunities, access health care information and better manage their money.
Creating learning communities of parents
So how can schools help? Educators can improve family tech literacy by sending home instructional handouts in the parents’ native language, including hands-on tech demonstrations at events like back-to school nights and hosting family tech nights aimed at families with low tech use.
Organizing family technology education nights can reap big rewards but they also require some planning. Here are some strategies for ensuring that your event is a success.
Send notices in multiple formats and languages. To build a learning community for whole families, it is important to get parents to the training. To increase the chances, sending messages by phone, text and paper is essential. When a family’s first language is not English, having the phone message in the native language helps to ensure clear communication and a welcoming tone.
Remove obstacles. Providing childcare, securing translators, getting student volunteers for 1:1 help and offering snacks helps mitigate barriers to families. Getting a professional simultaneous interpreter is another step that can help build bridges. Most districts have interpreter resources they can use for the event. It’s often just a matter or contacting the right people.
Make participants feel welcome. Having the principal and staff greet parents at the door certainly creates a feeling of respect. For example, one of our principals took the extra step of barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers for families. This act of service ended up creating a lot of goodwill.
Establish a clear agenda. How many topics you cover will depend on many factors including the size of the audience, the proficiency of parents and whether you intend to make this an annual event or something more frequent. It’s important to provide enough information but not overwhelm parents.