Internet access and devices are more affordable than ever, but many school districts still struggle to achieve true digital equity for all students.
Technology has radically transformed almost every aspect of our lives. But such transformative tech has remained somewhat less common in one area that stands to benefit from it immensely: education.
It’s not a question of technological advancement. New adaptive learning technologies and personalized learning tools have proven to be game changers in many classrooms — individualizing the learning experience, providing real-time data and insights – and most importantly, improving learning outcomes.
Yet, some of the largest school districts in the country still struggle with infrastructure and delivering effective learning experiences at scale. For example, while internet connectivity is pervasive, the quality of those connections can vary, particularly in older facilities or rural areas. In addition, access to devices remains uneven, and many students aren’t able to use the personalized learning programs that could make a difference. The result is a growing digital divide threatening the goal of educational equity — and the futures of millions of students.
Access by the numbers
According to Future Ready Schools, 21 million U.S. students still lack the broadband capability necessary for digital learning — but that’s just half the problem.
“Even for schools with sufficient broadband access, major challenges remain,” says Dwight Jones, senior vice president of Equity, Inclusion & Urban Markets of the School Group at McGraw-Hill Education. “When I was the superintendent of Clark County School District in Las Vegas, for example, we had about 315,000 students and 19,000 teachers across 357 schools — so simply ensuring consistent learning experiences automatically posed a substantial challenge.”
“Worse, the digital divide extends well beyond the classroom,” continues Jones. “Lower-income students often have less access to technology at home, so if you are offering digital lessons in the classroom, you’ve got to ensure students have connectivity, access and support outside of school, as well.”
Jones speaks from deep experience gained over a lifetime in the education trenches; in addition to his former position in Las Vegas, the nation’s fifth-largest school district, he also served as the Colorado commissioner of education, and in numerous other educational roles.
“The challenges are significant,” says Jones. “But the potential advantages are frankly too important to overstate.”
It takes a village
One major key to successfully advancing digital equity, Jones believes, lies in partnerships and working with a strong education technology partner that understands the challenges that school districts have to manage.
“Smart technologies are really changing the classroom, and the fast pace of change requires schools to have partners that deeply understand their needs,” he notes. “At McGraw-Hill Education, for example, we partner with schools, thinking about the content, the role of purposeful technology and the students’ needs. We also know how critical professional development is for teachers. As powerful as personalized learning tools are, they can’t do any good if educators aren’t comfortable using them. Ongoing professional development is absolutely crucial. And it can never be one-size-fits-all.”
“We also can’t ignore the fact that students are often more digitally savvy than some of us adults, and including the student voice in the development phase is essential,” Jones continues. “At the same time, there needs to be community engagement that involves parents. Because if parents can’t relate to new digital classroom learning environments, that can become an obstacle to learning.”
Jones sees a future where the digital divide is closed for good — if school districts, communities and business partners work together effectively.
“Everything is possible through collaboration. By working together, we can help create the most effective and inclusive learning environments possible — ensuring that we support teachers and empower students to reach their full potential.”
Jeff Somers, [email protected]