Digital tools have become a no-brainer in classrooms, but what happens when students need access to those same digital tools at home?
Unfortunately, for nearly 3 million students, it means they may not be able to complete their homework assignments simply because they do not have home internet access. According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, these students are more likely to be students of color and students from low-income families.
Recent data from EducationSuperHighway shows that 99 percent of U.S. K–12 school districts now have access to high-speed internet. This means there is enough bandwidth for digital learning in every classroom, every day.
Of course, this was not always the case. When the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) started Digital Learning Day (DLDay) in 2012, technology in classrooms was a new, and even controversial, idea. The first DLDay was about creating a safe place for educators to innovate with technology and explore the possibilities of how it could change learning.
Fast forward and we are coming up on the ninth annual DLDay on February 27, 2020. Last year, we had more than 2,300 events on our DLDay map, providing a window directly into different types of classrooms across the country — from Tacoma, Washington, to Savannah, Georgia. There is never a shortage of examples of how schools are transforming teaching and learning with digital tools.
On DLDay, you’ll see students programming robots, creating stop-motion animated videos, and printing 3D versions of art projects. However, the best examples come from educators using digital tools to enhance everyday classroom activities to help students build important skills including collaboration, communication, and problem-solving. We’ve seen technology enhance peer reviews and feedback, career exploration, student resume building, and project research.
A staple of learning
There’s no question that education technology generally has become a staple of 21st-century learning experiences, but it also threatens to widen an existing divide between students who have home internet access and those who don’t.
To close this gap, schools and districts have developed creative ways to provide students with internet access beyond school hours. For example, Coachella Valley Unified School District in California added Wi-Fi routers and solar panels to school buses parked in trailer parks and nearby reservations where students live so they can stay connected and complete their homework.
Meanwhile, Santa Ana Unified School District in California, honored with an Excellence and Innovation Award during DLDay 2016, worked with city offices to increase open wireless access in public spaces and outfitted the exterior of schools to broadcast filtered wireless access into surrounding homes.
An urgent problem
While these creative solutions are working, closing the digital gap is an urgent issue of equity. It’s also an economic issue. How can students who can’t complete basic homework assignments be prepared to compete in an increasingly competitive world? Most importantly, though, it’s a moral issue. We have a responsibility to knock down barriers and prepare our kids to succeed in whatever future they choose. Simply stated, we must provide opportunities we want for our own children.