Computers and online connectivity are becoming increasingly important to ensuring that educational opportunity is open to all children, regardless of their economic status. Whether it is keeping up with school assignments and tracking grades; selecting an appropriate new school; watching tutorials on how to complete a math problem; researching papers and typing essays; investigating colleges and financial aid opportunities; looking for local after-school activities and community resources; or taking advantage of educational software, games and videos—digital tools have become key components of children’s education.
Most low- and moderate-income families have some form of Internet connection, but many are under-connected, with mobile-only access and inconsistent connectivity. Nine in ten (94%) families have some kind of Internet access, whether through a computer and Internet connection at home, or through a smart mobile device with a data plan. Even among families below the poverty level, nine in ten (91%) are connected in some way. However, many lower-income families are under-connected. For example, one quarter (23%) of families below the median income level and one third (33%) of those below the poverty level rely on mobile-only Internet access. And many experience interruptions to their Internet service or constrained access to digital devices. Among families who have home Internet access, half (52%) say their access is too slow, one quarter (26%) say too many people share the same computer, and one fifth (20%) say their Internet has been cut off in the last year due to lack of payment. Among families with mobile-only access, three in ten (29%) say they have hit the data limits on their plan in the past year, one-quarter (24%) say they have had their phone service cut off in the past year due to lack of payment, and one fifth (21%)
Rideout and Karz Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in lower income families. Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, Winter 2016.
Like most districts, our school district is increasingly providing learning resources and activities online. These for our district include:
Thankfully, I thought, our student surveys indicated that about 95% of our families had home Internet access. For others we are providing hotspots and 3G enabled Chromebooks for check-out and strategizing other ways to increase student access to Internet connectivity outside of school (See Helping Close the Digital Divide, Educational Leadership, February 2015)
Yet now this striking report from the Joan Gantz Cooney Center indicates our work may be just be beginning in creating equal digital learning opportunities for all our students. It's not enough to have a phone with a data plan at home, broadband and access to a more robust device is crucial as well.
Increasingly we are also becoming aware that some of our immigrant families may need special help in getting online when only English directions and instructional materials are available. Close collaboration of the technology department and cultural liaisons is needed to make sure households for which English is not the first language can take advantage of the digital resources we provide.
Over the past few years, I have been amazed by how teachers have extended their classrooms beyond the traditional 50 minute, single lesson. Using video lessons to "flip" the classroom, organizing and differentiating materials using the learning management system, and providing voluntary free reading materials through collections of e-books have grown learning opportunities immensely.
But we need to make sure that these opportunities are available to every child. Not just some.