CETF - On a mission to close the Digital Divide - Page 24

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

When the pandemic suddenly shuttered schools in March 2020 , families and educators found themselves scrambling to ensure K-12 students could keep up with their studies online . Under the best circumstances , it was a hard transition . For households without a reliable high-speed internet connection to handle a family learning and working at home or enough devices to go around , it was a crisis .

Findings from the 2021 Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption , a partnership between the California Emerging Technology Fund and University of Southern California , highlight the opportunities to act on the lessons learned from the pandemic . Overall , K-12 parents reported that their children had significantly greater access to technology tools during the school shutdowns and lower-income families said they are committed to staying connected with home internet beyond short-term subsidized emergency programs .
Still , distance learning disparities exist for households based on income , race and ethnicity : lower-income families reported improving but lower levels of technology adoption and difficulty helping their children with schoolwork and following their child ’ s academic progress .
“ Distance learning changed education ,” says CETF President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak . “ Now is the time to seize the lessons to effectively integrate technology tools in K-12 education at school and at home . We know from on-the-ground experience that it starts with a computing device and reliable , affordable internet at home and requires vital components to help eligible parents access discount internet offers and devices and be trained in order to close the Achievement Gap and promote parent engagement .”
While about 97 % of families with K-12 children in California have home internet , the quality and reliability of a connection may fall short of the requirements for distance learning , particularly when other household members are using the same connection . According to the Statewide Survey , nearly 16 % of these families report that their current connection is not adequate for their needs . Low-income families are about four times more likely to report that students are unable to connect to class online .
To address the connectivity crisis at the start of the pandemic , many school systems swung into action to provide devices and subsidies for internet service to as many students as possible . Seventytwo percent of families report in the CETF-USC survey that at least one of the devices used by students was loaned to them by their school or school district and the vast majority of them ( 76 %) report that the device was received after the onset of the pandemic . Among families with annual incomes below $ 40,000 , about one in 10 either lack a device or report that children are sharing devices for distance learning . The disparities were even greater for Spanish-speaking households .
Devices aside , cost of internet service is often cited as the primary barrier to connectivity . When asked about expectations to continue having internet access once their school or district discontinues the service subsidy program , more than two-thirds of parents report they will “ definitely ” or “ most likely ” subscribe to the service on their own . This reflects a strong demand for low-cost connectivity options that cater in particular to the needs of K-12 families . But the survey also found that the vast majority of these parents were not aware that they may qualify for discount home internet offers , underscoring the need for internet service providers to vastly increase their advertising and promotion of these discounts . In addition to affordable access , providing conducive learning environments — including motivating parents to become more engaged in their children ’ s education — is vital . According to CETF , residents in underserved neighborhoods are often confronted with an interrelated set of factors and forces that constitute a “ Wall of Poverty .” Some of these factors get in the way of children being able to succeed in school , but they are not only a responsibility of schools . To help mitigate these factors , CETF launched
84 comstocksmag . com | June 2021