Schools and school leaders can help students and families achieve digital equity by pursuing at-home internet connectivity.

How schools can help students overcome the digital divide

New tool helps school administrators determine eligibility and advance enrollment in the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Key points:

When it comes to digital equity, U.S. schools are well-positioned to help families get online with low-cost, high-speed internet options through the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), according to a new study from Discovery Education and Comcast.

However, the study also found that educators lack centralized resources and direct support necessary to successfully overcome barriers to the digital divide. Released to help support this year’s Digital Inclusion Week theme of “Building Connected Communities,” key findings include: 

  • Nearly all educators surveyed feel strongly that digital equity is more important today than ever before. 
  • 82 percent of families and 80 percent of educators surveyed feel strongly that high-speed Internet at home is extremely important to fulfilling learning outcomes. 
  • While two-thirds of families and educators acknowledge their school’s interest in closing the digital divide, only one-third are aware of actionable measures being taken by the school district.  
  • Only 39 percent of parents were aware of the ACP, and of those that were aware, just 13 percent of parents have signed up. What’s more, only 22 percent of educators surveyed strongly agree that administrators in their school districts are equipped with the necessary information to communicate options for high-speed internet access at home. 
  • Data shows multiple disconnects between what parents pointed to as actual barriers to broadband adoption versus what teachers perceived as parents’ barriers to adoption. Addressing these will be critical to ensuring that school districts and digital navigator programs are effective in closing the digital divide for students. 
  • There was a 52-percentage-point difference between the share of teachers who thought that cost of service was the primary barrier to adoption for families versus the actual share of parents who pointed to cost as a barrier. 
  • Significantly larger shares of teachers thought that families did not live in buildings that were wired for broadband, did not know how to set up the Internet, and did not have devices than the share of parents who raised these barriers. 
  • Findings from the study also support a recommendation for school systems to partner with proven and trusted programs such as those that include support from Digital Navigators — to help streamline communication, advocacy, and adoption strategies that lead to equitable opportunities for all students. Ensuring all ACP-eligible families are signed up is equally important in supporting district connectivity goals. 

To help further address these issues, Comcast is helping school administrators more quickly and easily access additional resources to get more households enrolled in the ACP during the back-to-school season through the Online For All Back to School Challenge, led by the U.S. Department of Education and Civic Nation. 

A new online tool from Comcast is designed to help administrators quickly and easily assess ACP eligibility in their school districts. They can also learn about which schools have the lowest broadband adoption rates in their area. This valuable data will enable school leaders to better tailor communications around the ACP and direct families to resources that can assist in supporting Internet adoption. 

“Ensuring every student in America has access to reliable, high-speed Internet in the classroom and at home is a top priority for Comcast’s Project UP. The combination of historic investments in universal broadband, public-private collaboration, and private industry support will together ensure that neither availability nor affordability stand in the way of achieving connectivity for everyone,” said Broderick Johnson, EVP of Public Policy and EVP of Digital Equity, Comcast Corporation. 

“At Discovery Education, we are on a mission to prepare learners for tomorrow by creating innovative classrooms connected to today’s world. Today, no matter where learning takes place, access to and adoption of high-speed Internet is an essential ingredient for student success. As Comcast’s education partner in this work, we’re proud to support efforts to ensure students and families have the tools necessary to meet the demands of the modern learning environment,” said Amy Nakamoto, EVP of Social Impact, Discovery Education. 

“Today, 17 million unconnected households are eligible for low-cost, high-speed Internet under the Affordable Connectivity Program. Civic Nation is partnering with the U.S. Department of Education, school districts, and organizations across the country through Online For All to close this gap and ensure every student and family has equitable access to learning, both at home and in the classroom,” said Kyle Lierman, CEO of Civic Nation. 

Additional key findings from the study include: 

  • While educators believe their school district leaders are aware of the negative impacts the digital divide has on learning outcomes, there are numerous other factors being prioritized over home Internet adoption. 
  • 86 percent of educators surveyed elevated student well-being as the most important issue for schools to address, followed by school safety, and equity and inclusion more broadly. This places more emphasis on policymakers, school officials, institutions, and the private sector to show how digital equity and home broadband adoption facilitate broader equity issues and level the playing field for families seeking opportunities for their children. 
  • Further, coupling Internet access and adoption with an ability to address other school concerns, such as providing supports for student well-being and growth, has the ability to keep digital equity as a top priority for school leaders and help them serve broader needs for their students. 

There is widespread agreement that the pandemic forcefully evolved and rapidly closed gaps in the digital divide as schools moved swiftly to remote learning. This cultural shift was met with success stories of connectivity and technological advancements, but also shined a light on students and families who did not experience equitable access to learning because of lack of connectivity or devices, or other barriers that made remote learning cumbersome. 

This study and partnerships were made possible by Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity and help build a future of unlimited possibilities. Part of Comcast’s $1 billion commitment is prioritizing Internet connectivity and its impact on education. In addition, through providing low-cost broadband through Internet Essentials to families and the Internet Essentials Partner Program (IEPP) for schools, Comcast continues to ensure there are no barriers to home connectivity that could impede learning. 

This press release originally appeared online.

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