Just like that, we’ve reached the near end of an unprecedented year in K-12 education. From videoconferencing calls to new modes of instruction to exhausted WiFi bandwidths, educators and students have had to adapt to teaching and learning in new ways.
They say that “hindsight is 20/20,” so before we all move on to a brighter year ahead, let’s take a quick look back at what this past year held.
Responsive and Nimble Leadership
From March 6 to May 15, 2020, over 124,000 U.S. public and private schools transitioned to fully virtual learning. Many district leaders had only a few days or weeks to build a plan for 100% remote learning, as well as to roll out the necessary technology and communicate updates to families.
Through the course of the year, these leaders have continued to monitor COVID-19 updates and make difficult decisions about the safety and well-being of their staff and students. Through grit, determination, and genuine regard for their students, education leaders have battled the odds to deliver instruction to students and keep the learning going.
What these disparate numbers reveal is the breadth of the Digital Divide, an equity issue that has existed for decades but was brought to the forefront this year. During the rapid shift to online learning, students without home Internet access were left completely disconnected. Even school libraries or WiFi zones were no longer an option for these students, who often resorted to sitting in Starbucks parking lots just to download their virtual assignments for the week.
When the pandemic hit, Kajeet was poised to support these schools and districts with safe, reliable, and easy-to-launch student connectivity solutions. Districts across the U.S. put in orders by the hundreds for SmartSpot® devices (filtered WiFi hotspots for students) and LTE-Embedded Chromebooks. Devices arrive to districts fully provisioned and kitted, so administrators have been able to simply hand these out to students during scheduled meal or device pickup times.
We have also seen many districts get creative with school bus WiFi, placing these connected buses in strategic locations throughout the school community to enable students to gather and connect to their online assignments. The SmartBus™ WiFi radius extends 300 feet, allowing students and staff to maintain social distancing guidelines at all times.
While many students can connect using WiFi hotspots or other connectivity devices, for students in rural areas without cellular coverage, even these solutions are not of much help. Wireless infrastructure must be built so that WiFi coverage can reach these untouched areas of the U.S.
One thing is for certain – 2020 saw unprecedented measures taken to address digital equity, work that will continue well into the future.
Working Towards Equality for All
Of the percentage of students affected by the Digital Divide, a sobering 91% are members of racial and ethnic minorities. We must together address the needs of these students, many of whom are from socially and economically disadvantaged families, so that they can keep up with their peers and succeed in an increasingly digital world.
Digital equity is only one component of the broader picture of inequity affecting many U.S. citizens, and the nationwide events of 2020 have made it clear how much work there is left to do.
Rethinking Social-Emotional Learning
For many teachers and students, virtual learning poses a challenge in the area of social-emotional learning. Communicating with someone over a screen is different than in-person, so educators have had to adjust and learn new ways to connect with students.
Whether it was scheduling one-on-one check-ins with students, taking intentional time to start class with an icebreaker activity or group activity, creating fun backgrounds for their Zoom ‘classrooms,’ or creating wellness check-ins to gauge how students were faring emotionally, educators went above and beyond in 2020 to foster as much social-emotional growth and interpersonal connectedness as possible.
Amidst all the distractions and noise, we learned this year how important it is to care for your own mental health. It has been all too easy this past year to fall into unhealthy cycles, not taking the time to unplug and recharge.
With all the challenges this past year has held, we hope that in 2021 we are all able to take care of ourselves and those around us. With that under our belts, we will be prepared for a new year and whatever it may bring.