The tough choice to open schools during a pandemic or offer distance learning is currently weighing on the minds of every district in the nation. As these districts begin to plan for the new school year, many are weighing their options to ensure the safety of students and faculty. Along with the safety concerns, districts need to address the availability for all students to attend virtual classrooms and the technology they have available at home.
In a recent study by The National Center for Education Statistics, teachers provided information about the use of technology while students worked from home during the 2018-19 school year. This study addresses the challenges that students with limited access to technology face in completing online homework assignments. The study found while computers and internet service might exist in students’ households, computer availability for homework and the reliability of computer connections to the internet can vary considerably. The ability to reach all students, regardless of online availability, is the core of the virtual classroom issue.
Below are some highlights from the study:
- Twenty-six percent of teachers reported that students have district-provided computers for use at home.
- Of those teachers that did not report district-provided computers, they estimate 81% of students had access to computers at home while another 8% could borrow computers short-term.
- Nearly 75% of teachers felt their students had reliable internet access at home.
- Teachers reported that less than 10% of students need to rely on public locations to access internet school work.
- About one-third of the teachers surveyed estimated the majority of their students had access to a smartphone at home and thought they could be useful for school assignments.
- Teachers that reported giving online assessments found that the majority of their students were somewhat to very prepared for the technology needed for the assessments.
- About three-fourths of teachers also provide alternative homework assignments either in hard-copy or additional in-class time to complete the assignments.
With the findings of this study, its no wonder districts are heavily weighing their options. The digital divide between urban and rural communities remains an issue. As many rural communities struggle to get reliable access to broadband connections, the chance for students to fall behind exceeds those in an urban setting. Income is another factor restricting broadband connection. Lower-income families tend to be more dependent on their smartphones for internet and lack access to laptops or tablets to complete online homework. Teachers need to consider this digital divide when assigning online work.
Just as the government works to contain the disease, school districts must work to tackle the shortcomings of limited access to technology with their students so all can succeed. Ideally the digital divide will be lessened and that may be one of the few positive outcomes that we will see in the next year.
By: Sharla Schuller