This year has pushed organizations to move towards a digital-first approach with remote working and remote learning to encourage people to stay at home. Students had to adapt to online classes and educators had to set up work and teaching environments at home. Schools used tools like video conferencing, online assignments, and interactive learning to make this sudden digital transformation possible. While these adjustments reflect the future of learning, they also highlighted an important issue at hand – the digital divide in education.
According to a report by UNICEF, during COVID-19, at least a third of the world’s schoolchildren were unable to access remote learning during school closures. That is approximately 463 million children globally.
Who has access to online learning and who doesn’t?
A digital divide in education means that students who attend any kind of educational institution, such as a school, college or university, are unable to do schoolwork at home due to lack of (or limited access to) internet or technology access. In other words, having access to a device without internet or with limited internet access is of no use to students because they still wouldn’t be able to do their assignments.
This digital divide has always existed. However, it became more evident and pronounced when COVID-19 hit and education (and other industries) had to go online and remote.
According to Pew Research Center, “Americans with lower incomes are particularly likely to have concerns related to the digital divide.” In a survey conducted in April 2020, roughly 1 in 5 parents with homebound schoolchildren mentioned that their children would not be able to complete schoolwork due to lack of access to a computer at home (21%) or no reliable internet connection at home (22%). About 29% of these parents also said that their children may more likely have to do their schoolwork on cellphones.
These numbers are a huge concern mainly amongst households with lower incomes. Families are investing in better connection plans resulting in higher bills, or their children are dropping out of school/university. Furthermore, the lack of access to necessary digital devices and tools can lead to low performance in school. This gives the people with easy access to technology an unfair competitive advantage, resulting in different learning experiences for various income groups, also known as the homework gap.
Schools reopening: Are we still addressing the digital divide?
With many schools reopening in the Fall and most likely staying open till the end of the semester, we are seeing things move towards a “new normal”. This might unfortunately coincide with the buzz about the digital divide fading away.
Some schools are giving students the option to continue learning remotely or to go in physically, depending on the parents’ comfort level. This highlights the first impact of schools reopening on the digital divide. Students in rural and low-income areas cannot afford to have this choice to stay at home and do e-learning. They have to go into the classroom due to limited or no access to computers and/or good internet. This puts them at higher health risks, as we know that the pandemic has largely hit low-income areas.
With talks of a second wave of the pandemic in North America looming on the horizon, there’s a possibility that schools might shut down again. In the event that this happens, low-income households with children going to school could be back at square one. Without a permanent, sustainable solution to the disparity in internet access, concerns about the digital divide will come up again and the effects of this inequality may become more prominent in education.
How do we keep our focus on addressing the digital divide, even after schools have opened?
We have to remember that the digital divide has always existed, even before the pandemic, and it will not disappear just because schools are reopening. While lockdown measures have really highlighted the inequality in internet and technology access, these inequalities will remain unless we work on fixing them. Now that we know the impact the homework gap has on students and the challenges they face when they have to do schoolwork at home with no internet or digital tools, we need to work bridging this digital divide.
Technologically, the solution lies in finding a high-speed wireless service that is accessible within a mile radius. This can then be expanded into remote and rural areas on the same private LTE network, making it secure, reliable, and accessible to all students, regardless of their household income.
A fixed wireless solution in the CBRS band allows operators to rapidly build a wireless broadband network while staying cost-effective. It can also provide schools with a private cellular network that their students can access from their homes, providing free, fast and reliable internet access. This allows children from low-income households to not only attend classes online but also gives them equal access to virtual and remote resources.
BLiNQ Networks’ OnGo-certified wireless connectivity solutions are cost-effective, powerful and easy to deploy. They offer faster speeds and greater range than other alternatives. Talk to us today to learn more about our range of CBRS offerings and find the right solution for you today.