You may have heard the notion that we’re living in the “digital age.” Computers, smartphones, and the Internet have injected themselves into our daily lives at a surprisingly fast rate and almost everyone is using these technologies to revolutionize the way we live and work.
However, it’s easy to fall into the misconception that everyone has equal access to these digital tools and technologies. As a result, when it comes to education, students who don’t have the same access as their peers sadly fall behind. This can affect the way they learn, how they interact with friends, teachers, and peers, their overall wellbeing and their future.
The National School Boards Association emphasizes the importance of digital equity and calls on schools to assist underprivileged students. Read on to learn more about the importance of having digital equity in your district, what it means to be digitally equal, common barriers, and how you can get involved to ensure equality for your students.
What Is Digital Equity?
In short, digital equity means giving all students and teachers equal access to the tools and technologies used for education. Some related terms are:
- Digital access: The ability to use the right tools and technologies to participate in school and society as a whole
- Digital divide: Some students lack the resources and tools (i.e. digital access) resulting in them falling behind
- Digital inclusion: The methodologies used to achieve digital equity. This term matters because students need to have equal opportunities to engage with and excel in the learning process
Digital equity goes beyond just handing out laptops to everyone. It’s about teaching students to use new technologies to make learning materials accessible for all students, including the disabled and those with special needs.
The pandemic has revealed a new challenge to digital equity in today’s schools: some students might not have the online infrastructure or equipment to handle remote classes. For instance, almost half of lower-income families don’t have broadband Internet services, and 4 out of 10 don’t have a suitable computer for online coursework.
The goal of digital equity is to have schools assist students not only in receiving the tools they need to do well in school but also in using those technologies properly.
Why Digital Equity Matters
Computer literacy is a term often used when discussing digital equity in education. Without the right support, students who lack Internet access, computers, and other digital tools may:
- Have less access to online resources and lessons, potentially slowing down or impeding progress in school
- Find themselves left behind when they enter university or the job market
- Face a general unfair disadvantage by no fault of their own
Even as COVID restrictions subside, giving support for hybrid models of education is still necessary. Students will still need Internet access to interact with online materials and occasionally chat with peers and teachers when at home.
Current Barriers To Digital Equity
It’s clear that achieving digital equity should be a top priority for today’s schools, especially during the digital revolution. However, there are a few challenges to overcome first:
- Cost: Internet service, whether at home or using mobile data, isn’t cheap, especially given the higher-than-usual demands of streaming video and audio for online classes. Devices themselves can cost hundreds of dollars each, which is outside the budget of some families
- Availability: Not all regions offer internet service. Rural areas and less populated regions rarely have these options
- Safety: Unsupervised Internet access for children can have damaging effects on their development, as not all areas of the online world are safe. Schools need to teach children and their parents about avoiding harmful content and installing access restrictions whenever necessary
- Parental involvement: Online technologies are relatively new, and some parents (and especially grandparents) didn’t have these tools when they were growing up. Parents who don’t think digital access matters—or know little about it—can be a barrier to digital equity for their children
- False assumptions: Because of the prevalence of smart devices and Internet access, many educators prematurely assume that all students have suitable access to digital learning resources
It’s for these reasons that just handing out computers to everyone won’t fully solve the issue. School districts need to play an active role in the success of their students, and digital equity needs to be one of their primary objectives.
How To Get Involved and Ensure Equal Opportunity For All Students
Despite these challenges, it’s certainly possible for digital equity to prevail and offer new opportunities for students to succeed, regardless of their individual needs and economic background. But it’ll take efforts from school teachers, administrators, parents, and even governments to get there.
Communities must consider providing devices and Internet access to students without them. Schools should encourage parents to understand how online access works and why it’s important for their child’s education and future. Internet service providers could pitch in and increase access to many regions. And teachers need full support with proper training on how to use and properly incorporate all the latest technologies in the classroom.
It’s also worth noting that strong initiatives for pursuing digital equity have already started in many cities and states:
- Boston: The Digital Equity Fund aims to provide affordable WiFi and digital skills training to the community
- North Carolina: The Department of Information Technology has made ongoing efforts to establish broadband infrastructure throughout the state
- San Francisco: The Digital Equity Strategic Plan, which will continue into 2024, is bringing affordable Internet and more widespread digital literacy to its community
- Washington: The Digital Equity Initiative is looking for private funding to support remote learning solutions throughout the state—such as broadband Internet, electronic devices, and technical support
Interested in Bringing Digital Equity to Your Community?
Every child deserves their best chance at a full education. Digital equity is necessary for lifelong learning, future employment, cultural and civic participation, and access to essential services. Students can gain digital equity through school districts who put equal conditions in place to meet the needs of every learner, and the regular practices used to help deepen and sustain those conditions.
Edsembli can help you empower your students and education management practices by bringing technology to the forefront. We understand the unique challenges facing school districts today and have developed the perfect tailor-made platform for solving issues like digital equity and online classroom development.