In recent years, there have been amazing strides to close the Homework Gap that exists between school-age students who have broadband Internet access and those who do not.
Recent successes, however, do not mean the education community should become complacent. There’s still a lot of work to do to not only narrow but close the Homework Gap, once and for all.
But digital equity isn’t the responsibility of one individual. Rather, it’s a team effort that requires input and dedication not just from teachers or students or school administrators—but from everyone.
CAUGHT IN THE HOMEWORK GAP
Nationwide, more than five million K-12 students don’t have access to broadband Internet once they leave school. This lack of access puts them at a disadvantage from their more affluent, digitally connected peers. This disadvantage is called the Homework Gap.
According to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the past two decades have seen great progress in terms of giving more in-need students access to the digital tools and programs they need to succeed in today’s lightning-fast learning environment.
For example, more students have high-speed Internet access than they did before. According to CoSN, “supported by the 2014 modernization of the federal government’s E-Rate program and state funding efforts, a majority of schools now meet the FCC’s short-term connectivity goal of 100 Mbps/1,000 students.”
But CoSN also credits the “increasingly ubiquitous use of technology in instruction” with widening the Homework Gap. This, in turn, threatens to derail the education (and future) of low-income and rural students who lack home Internet access.
A TOOLKIT FOR DIGITAL EQUITY
That’s where CoSN’s recently updated Digital Equity Toolkit (co-sponsored by us here at Kajeet) comes in. Titled “Digital Equity: Supporting Students & Families in Out-of-School Learning,” the toolkit offers a comprehensive look at how communities can work together to close the Homework Gap.
The focus: providing “best practices and resources to help school officials develop digital equity solutions that work for their communities.” The backbone of the Digital Equity Toolkit is meant to:
Provide historical context for the existence of the Homework Gap.
Address the broader implications of household Internet connectivity.
Suggest resources for scoping the prevalence of the Homework Gap.
Offer five key strategies school districts are using to address these challenges.
FROM HOTSPOTS TO SMARTBUSES
So what, exactly, are the best ways to go about addressing the Homework Gap?
In the first half of its toolkit, CoSN details some of the innovative ways school districts across the country are making broadband Internet access easier for K-12 students in poorly connected communities. These strategies include:
Deploying Mobile Hotspot Programs. “Mobile hotspot lending programs,” the toolkit’s authors write, “can be an effective digital equity strategy, especially for students living in households that frequently move and for whom low-cost wired broadband plans may not be an effective solution.” With programs using mobile hotspots like the Kajeet SmartSpot®, students get filtered Internet access anytime, anywhere. Additionally, educators receive reports into student use of digital resources that can inform future academic strategies.
Installing Wi-Fi on School Buses. The CoSN toolkit reports on school districts in states like North Carolina and Missouri that installed Wi-Fi on school buses so students can “do their homework during their daily commute or when traveling to after-school activities such as sporting events.” Bus connectivity with programs like Kajeet Smartbus™ can also reduce behavioral problems, which “can have a positive ripple effect on such diverse areas as academic outcomes, school culture, and bus driver retention.”
FOUR WAYS TO PUSH FOR DIGITAL EQUITY
Ultimately, the end of the Homework Gap depends on how willing communities are to work together on long-term, sustainable solutions.
The toolkit says:
Digital equity is not a school or district problem; it is a community problem. Whether school and district leaders are looking to bring broadband to a rural area or just take a broader, more holistic approach to digital access and inclusion, community collaboration is a powerful tool. Schools are uniquely positioned to engage the broader community in conversations about digital equity.
The second half of the toolkit unpacks four steps school and community leaders should take to push for digital equity.
Assemble a Team and Develop a Vision. This is the first step in any successful digital equity plan. By building a team that includes a broad variety of stakeholders and organizations (such as community centers, libraries, colleges, and makerspaces), educators will find it easier to cultivate a vision that meets the community’s specific needs—which might not be the same as another’s.
Assess Resources, Gaps, and Needs. What are some of the things a community assessment should focus on? The CoSN toolkit suggests the importance of assessing existing physical and human capacity community resources, conducting a study of broadband Internet needs (including download speeds and available Internet services), and determining what systems are needed to build and sustain digital equity efforts.
Engage Stakeholders and Partners. Says CoSN, “Whether laying out the case for a broadband infrastructure project and putting forth an RFP, or expanding upon local digital inclusion initiatives to better support school families, the goal [of engaging with stakeholder groups] is to strengthen relationships, seek areas of agreement, and pull a wider scope of constituents into a common vision of the future.”
Develop and Execute a Project Plan. Any successful project plan requires essential information and steps. The CoSN toolkit notes that small and large project plans should include detailed timelines and deliverables, a project manager, regular team meetings, frequent communication, documented lessons (such as bi-weekly progress reports), and managing community expectations.
“A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD”
School districts across the country oversee an impressive 24.3 million student mobile devices. And tens of millions of K-12 students depend on these devices more than ever for learning the skills they need to get ahead in the world.
But millions of students still lack safe and equal access to the Internet at home for doing their school work. They remain trapped in the Homework Gap, and it’s up to us—whether we’re teachers, administrators, IT coordinators, even bus drivers—to rescue them.
“As key elements of school continue to move online, we must consciously make digital equity a priority if we want students to succeed,” says Kajeet CEO and Founder Daniel Neal. “The K-12 mobile environment is unique, and together we must ensure that all students share a level playing field, as well as the right tools to safely learn.”