The COVID-Era is Exposing the Digital Divide Between Families More Than Ever Before

August 6, 2020

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When many of us were growing up, the iconic words of Alice Cooper were music to our ears:

School's out for summer....
School's out forever,
School's been blown to pieces.

Summer break was a great time to unwind, relax, put the books behind us, and enjoy time with our friends. But as primary and secondary school administrators face the reality that school (at least for now) is out forever, how do we deal?

If you are from an affluent family, or in the right zip code, or neighborhood, it’s likely this doesn’t affect you. The school system has likely either provided physical tablets or other tech systems, or provided the means for students to do so. For most of us, reliable access to online tools is rarely ever thought about, except for that one time a month your Netflix is lagging because your internet provider is throttling.

But what about those folks from other socioeconomic backgrounds for whom a solid internet connection or access to expensive technology isn’t a given? Or for those who live in remote areas across our state that don’t have much more than dial-up access, if anything, and are expected to learn the same as their peers. You can’t just hop on a yellow school bus with your books and crank out a couple of pages of homework as in the past.

And it’s not just families from lower-income or underprivileged areas that this poses an issue. This author has a friend who’s family has a farm well off US Highway 1, somewhere between Apex and Sanford. It’s somewhere you would love to live if you were looking to get off the grid, raise some animals, see the sky without ambient light, etc. The perfect place to raise a young family. Except it’s literally off the grid. Cell phones don’t work, there is no internet cabling infrastructure in place, so good luck homeschooling, or remote educating your kids there.

This is a real problem that our local schools and schools all over the United States are facing as we look at the resumption of a new-normal academic calendar. I would say more, but the article is so good, I’ll leave it to the reader to check it out for yourself. Let me leave you with this comment from Sara Nichols of the Land of Sky Regional Council in semi-rural Asheville, NC.

"The digital divide got to me when I realized that children in my community wouldn't be able to do their homework. When COVID-19 started, there was a moment where officials were considering moving towards just a digital textbook. However, the number of people in my community that didn't have Internet was frustrating — it was going to leave those children without an opportunity, those in cycles of poverty, to struggle that much more to do what they're required to do."

–Said Sara Nichols, Regional Panner at Land of Sky Regional Council, a planning and development organization that provides technical aid to local governments.

"In the COVID environment, we're now living in that reality for everyone and not just for those in rural communities. We've had a critical mass of people who are focusing on this issue of access, because all of the sudden, a lot of the places that people went to connect aren't open for them anymore."

School, as we know it, has been blown to pieces – at least for now. How will we recover?

Children and Internet Devices
Image Source: Alexander Dummer/Unsplash


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