How Can We Expect Students to Thrive if They Can’t Afford Technology?

It is no secret that access and exposure to technology — as well as an understanding and fluency related to all aspects of it, has not been equitable across the K-12 landscape, historically. Despite government and nonprofit efforts to level the playing field in the public school system, these disparities are difficult to account for in a wealthy country like the United States. The global pandemic, rapidly forcing nearly everyone to suddenly rely on expensive technology to ensure the continuity of learning, just reinforced what we already knew. Young learners, due to no fault of their own, who are from middle class and wealthy families, were able to adjust much easier to remote and hybrid learning compared to those from working-class families who may not even have a stable internet connection.

Computer literacy and technological fluency comes with the territory if you are students from the upper financial tier and grow up using the most advanced computers, laptops, smartphones, robust internet connections, and surrounded by family members who have advanced knowledge of technology they can pass on to their children. Like financial literacy, access to computer literacy comes “baked in” to more affluent households; unfortunately, this creates complex questions about educational equity vis a vis digital inequality in a society where the public education system relies heavily on technology and a student’s ability to access and understand how it works. 

To say that this creates a learning environment where the chance of many students who are less affluent, and disproportionately from minority groups, likely to fall through the cracks, would be an obvious understatement. 

An article from the American Sociological Association last summer succinctly discussed this problem and broke it down into three questions education leaders need to ask in order to understand where they stand: “Digital inequality research points to three questions that help us understand the current landscape for K-12 students: How robust is the global technological infrastructure? How ready are educators and students? And how might students be unequally rewarded as classes go online?”

Many schools have gone above and beyond to ensure all their students have the technology they need. Stimulus checks, vouchers, and other forms of aid have assisted parents that are struggling to provide broadband at home. School employees of all ranks have been on the front lines, often at serious risk to their health, to get students back in classes face-to-face as soon as possible. They do this work thanklessly and often with confusing (and conflicting) directives from federal, state, and local health directives and guidelines. 

All of these people are heroes, along with first responders, hospital workers, advocacy groups, and school leadership — just like those single and often minority parents working two jobs to pay for childcare and digital access to help ensure their children succeed academically, against the odds. 

Let’s not forget them as schools return to normalcy, hopefully, over the summer and into the Fall. Along with the loss of learning resulting from the instability brought on by the pandemic, the digital divide must be addressed as well. The questions mentioned in the article above are helpful on a macro level, but public schools need to get more granular:

  • What can we do to ensure all students have equal access to and understanding of technology?
  • How can our school help those who are struggling to afford robust internet connectivity?
  • What resources can we offer households who may be digitally disadvantaged?
  • How might we differentiate instruction for those students who are struggling with digital literacy?

Stronger Consulting is here to support you with your efforts to make sure all your students have access to technology and resources to implement programs that help close the digital divide. Click here to learn how we helped SBEZ rapidly shift to remote learning in a district with many students living in poverty and nontraditional families.  We also specialize in recruiting leaders for your school, school district, and education nonprofit. Contact us today for a consultation

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