PEW Research recently published a study that showed a growing number of lower-income Americans access the internet solely through a smartphone. As many as 1 in 5 American children live at or below the poverty level and roughly half of all children qualify for free/reduced lunch, meaning that they live just above that poverty threshold (about $41K/year
for a family of four). If this trend continues, we should assume that a large portion of our nation’s children will have limited access to broadband and computers and will use a smart device for their internet access. What are the implications for education as teachers and schools move to more digital practices in their institutions?
Limited access to the internet or other resources is what we often call the “Digital Divide;” it often impacts students who are low-income, especially those in rural areas. There is no quick fix to addressing accessibility and broadband internet access is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity. What can educators do on an individual level to support students who are on the other side of the digital divide?
While on an individual level, teachers can be aware that many students in their classrooms do not have access to high speed internet or computers at home. They can also promote device agnostic tools (tools like G-Suite for Education can be installed on any device with near full-capability). Another potential option is that they can allow students to use class time and school resources to work on robust, digital assignments. However, teachers often feel powerless to help students when the problems facing students in the digital divide are so complex and need to be resolved at a macro-level.
There are a few attempts to address the digital divide. The e-rate program, which help to subsidize high speed internet in both urban and rural areas, has had a dramatic impact on bringing broad-band access to low-income as well as rural areas. However, even with this subsidy, students often have limited access at home. As the internet has become the primary repository of learning and knowledge, how can we ensure that all of our children have access?