The coronavirus pandemic has forced school closures nationwide, sending 55 million students home to continue their education remotely. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students alike are finding this transition challenging, but none more so than the families without access to the Internet or devices at home.
The “homework gap” existed long before COVID-19, but the rapid change in how learning is taking place has both exposed and exacerbated this digital divide. It’s clearer than ever how important it is to close the gap for the estimated 9 million students who are now at home and need the same continuity of learning their peers have.
It will require a range of technology solutions, policy interventions, and local action in order to get these students online quickly. In order to do so, first, we need to know who lacks access.
How many students in your district are impacted by this issue?
Based on Pew Research Center’s findings that 35% of low-income families lack home Internet access and analysis of public school students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch – children in households with incomes between 130-185% of the poverty level or those receiving SNAP or TANF – EducationSuperHighway estimates that 9.7 million students don’t have the level of connectivity needed to participate in digital learning during the pandemic.
Use the map below to apply our estimates by state, district, and school to see an estimate for the number of students in your district who will need help getting online.
What happens to students who lack access?
In places where Internet access is hard to get, teachers are taking a more analog approach – sending paper packets, making phone calls, and even knocking on doors (at a safe physical distance). Schools are coordinating sending educational materials along with meal dropoff for students on free or reduced lunch, or have pick-up sites at different locations around the district.
Most districts we’ve spoken to are capturing some form of attendance, including the students they haven’t been able to reach at all. But the most at-risk students – those who are food and/or house insecure – are the hardest to get a hold of and they’re quickly falling behind. While many districts are being flexible about grades and attendance, school is about more than what students are studying. Particularly in times of crisis, children need to be able to reliably connect with their teachers and classmates.
What can be done to address the problem?
In the absence of connectivity, many districts are deferring to teachers to decide on learning modalities, causing teachers to scramble to prepare a variety of lesson types depending on the level of access each of their students has. Even in houses with Internet access and devices, students may be sharing tablets with siblings or caregivers or may not have a reliable level of bandwidth or dedicated screen time. It’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll be able to keep up with their peers unless we’re able to provide them with equal access to the Internet and devices.
A lack of reliable Internet is only part of the homework gap problem. Connectivity, access to devices, and instruction are the three primary considerations that need to be addressed in order to get students online.
Below are articles that touch on each of these considerations:
Ultimately, every student needs access to a device and the Internet at home. This pandemic is an opportunity for government leaders, educators, and nonprofit organizations to rally around these efforts to close the homework gap so every student can take advantage of the promise of digital learning.
For more information on EducationSuperHighway’s Digital Bridge K-12 project or to connect with a member of our team email firstname.lastname@example.org