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Pandemic highlights inequities produced by 'digital divide'

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Wed, Feb 24th 2021 10:25 am

Guest Editorial by the New York Educational Conference Board

The "digital divide" – a common term for the lack of internet access and technological devices for K-12 students – is especially consequential during the pandemic when students are remote learning, according to a new report by the New York Educational Conference Board (ECB), a coalition of seven statewide educational organizations.

Lack of internet connectivity or access to technological devices is most prevalent in rural, poor and/or marginalized communities, notes the report. About 8% of students in the state lack access to a dependable technological device for school learning, according to the State Education Department. 

To help alleviate this problem, school leaders across New York worked hard to provide every student with a technological device for remote instruction, acquired wireless hotspots and partnered with community organizations and internet service providers (ISPs) to expand high-speed internet access. 

Underserved areas including rural communities often face the brunt of the digital divide. Infrastructure issues, problems with "service coverage maps" and subscription costs and caps on data also impede long-term broadband access for students and families. 

"This report highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of remote learning has heightened the digital divide for K-12 students. Our marginalized K-12 communities are affected the most by this divide. The report offers clear recommendations to help close this divide," ECB Chair John Yagielski said. 

Among the recommendations offered by the report to close the digital divide are:

√ Prioritize infrastructure investment to ensure broadband access;

√ Strengthen digital competencies of students and educators via professional development and training;

√ Upgrade coverage maps;

√ Provide monies to pay back school districts for technology costs associated with remote learning; and

√ Ban caps on data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). 

To view the report, go to:
https://www.nyssba.org/clientuploads/nyssba_pdf/gr/ecb-dig-divide-rev2-02222021.pdf.

The New York State Educational Conference Board is comprised of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; the New York State Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; New York State School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers; and the School Administrators Association of New York State.

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